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Iir*! Ill ril'f VlVlW, niiPLIC LIBRARY 

3 1833 00676 5306 





Major, H.P., 6Srd Regiment, one of H.M. Inspectors of Prisot 
and Author of " The Chronicles of Newgate," etc. etc. 



Gra 1884. 









A FEW lines are perhaps needed to explain how I came to 
write this book. 

Having filled since 1872 the post of Deputy Governor of 
Millbank Prison, I have had, ex-officio, custody of the archives 
and records of the place. Casual reference to these led me 
to suppose that extracts from them might prove readable, 
and I therefore began to collect anecdotes and ana, meaning 
to publish a small volume of them. As my task proceeded, 
however, I found my subject growing with it, Millbank has 
since its erection been so closely connected with all that 
.concerns prisons and penal legislation generally, that the 
history of one naturally embraced the other. My work has, 
therefore, become wider and more pretentious in its aim 
than was originally intended. It may also have become 
drier and more dull; but what the narrative loses in merely 
amusing qualities will, I trust, be compensated for by the 
more comprehensive treatment of the subject. 

I cannot allow these volumes to go to press without 
expressing my thanks to those who have assisted me with 
advice and information ; more especially to Wm. Morrish, Esq., 
Governor, R. M. Gover, Esq., Medical Officer, and Mr. Denis 
Power, Chief Warder of Millbank Prison. 


















THE chaplain's REIGN 149 












TRANSPORTATION {Continued) 259 








CAPTAIN GROVES AT MILLBANK . . . . . . . . 327 















THE sixE OF millba:nk IN 1808 21 

ground plan of millbank penitentiary . . . . . .22 

the prison graveyard 55 

hospital hulks at woolwich 69 

the inner gate 90 

the way to the '' dark " 113 

tower stairs 133 

the chapel 14? 

Howard's escape 174 

feilale prisoners at exercise 198 

entrance to pentagon . . . ... ... . . 224 

in the prison garden 240 

north and south heads in port jackson 259 

SYDNEY IN 1835 277 


"probation" STATION IN VAN DIEMEN's LAND 311 



A "big" CRIMINAL 371 








MiLLBANK no longer attracts tlie wide attention it did in former 
days ; and yet the very name contains in itself almost an 
epitome of our whole penal legislation. With it one intimately 
associates the names of men like Howard and Jeremy Bentham; 
an architect of eminence, Sir Eobert Smirke, superintended its 
erection ; while statesmen and high dignitaries, dukes, bishops, 
and members of parliament, were to be found upon its com- 
mittee of management, exercising a control that was far from 
nominal or perfunctory, not disdaining a close consideration 
of the minutest details, and coming into intimate personal 
communion with the criminal inmates, whom, by praise or 
admonition, they sought to reward or reprove. Millbank has 
been doomed to demolition again and again ; its site, valued 
now at nearly a quarter of a million, has been promised for 
other edifices — now for a barrack, now for aristocratic squares. 
Ten years ago a new prison, intended to replace it, was com- 
menced in the western suburbs of London. The new prison is 
completed and occupied, yet Millbank still survives. Only 
within the last few months the penitentiary has passed into a 
new phase of its loug and chequered existence. The female 
prison in Tothill Fields has been closed, under the power of 
the Prisons' Act of 1877, and Millbank has taken its place. 
It is now the sole metropolitan prison for females, just as once 


it was tlie sole reformatory for promising criminals, tlie first 
receptacle for military prisoners, the great de-pot for convicts 
en route to tlie Antipodes. A prison with such a history has 
a right to its historian, and I have endeavouredj therefore, 
to record in the following pages its origin, and the causes that 
brought it into being; its object, and the success or other- 
wise of those who ruled it ; its annals, and the curious 
incidents with whicli they are filled. 

The pictures painted by Howard of the horrors of prison 
life are known to have been by no means over-coloured, but 
familiarity with the revolting details has bred in us a certain 
indifference to the frightful story they told. It was naturally 
far otherwise when Howard's indignant protests were first 
made public. They appealed then with a voice that was 
trumpet-tongued to all in whom the instincts of humanity 
were not quite dead, and woke even the most apathetic to 
activity. Interest once evoked, sympathy followed, and from 
that time forth the question of prisons and prison management 
attracted daily greater attention. 

Nor was it much too soon. The condition of our prisons, 
as disclosed in Howard's reports, was a disgrace to civilisation. 
The mere aspect of the prisoners was most miserable ; when 
visited they were found of thin and sallow visage, in form 
emaciated, oftentimes dying of pestilential diseases as they lay on 
the foul dungeon floors quite untended and destitute of the 
commonest necessaries of life. They had no regular allowance of 
food : perhaps a pennyworth or two of bread, and that reduced 
in weight by petty thefts before it reached the prisoner. No 
wonder that they looked half-starved when they came up for 
trial ; that they were clothed in rags ; and they carried with, 
them, wherever they went, the seeds of deadly infection. The 
" Gaol Fever," a disease now happily unknown, was the 
product of these terrible times. " By it," says Howard, 
" more people perished than were put to death by all the 
public executions in the kingdom." At one court held at 
Oxford Castle, in 1577, and still known as the "Black Assize," 
all who were present died within forty hours — the Lord Chief 
Baron, the sheriff, and about three hundred more.* Again at 
* Baker's Chronicle, p. 353. 


Taunton, in 1730, some prisoners from tlie Dorcliester Gaol 
infected the court so that the Lord. Chief Baron Pengelly, the 
sergeant, Sir James Sheppard, the sheriff, and some hundreds 
besides, died of the distemper. It was common for released 
prisoners to take back contagion into their own homes ; and 
later, in 1750, the Lord Mayor of London, two judges, an 
alderman, and many of inferior rank, fell victims to the fever. 
That such a terrible visitant should be ever present within 
the prison walls was indeed not strange. Sanitary precautions 
and rules, which are to-day deemed indispensable, were then 
almost altogether a dead letter. 

Overcrowding was practised to a frightful extent. Cleanli- 
less and good ventilation were words without meaning. The 
wretched inmates were lodged in " close rooms, cells, and 
subterraneous dungeons, for fourteen or fifteen hours out of 
the four-and-twenty. In some of these caverns the floor 
is very damp; in others there is sometimes an inch or two 
of water ; and the straw or bedding is laid on such floors, 
seldom on barrack bedsteads." * But in few places was there 
any allowance of bedding : a little straw was sometimes issued, 
but left unchanged for months ; and in the interval it became 
filthy, or was ground to dust. As often as not the prisoners 
lay on rags, or on the floors. No attention was paid to water 
supply. In most prisons there was no water at all ; in others 
it was kept under lock and key, and given out in stinted 
quantities, the allowance being sometimes as low as three pints 
per head, daily, for all purposes. Sewers were generally 
unknown ; and both inside and out the accumulations of filth 
were offensive beyond expression. It would have been 
■Sb mockery to mention fresh air in such loathsome dens as 
these : it was conspicuous only by its absence. 

So poisonous and pestiferous was the atmosphere the 
prisoners were compelled constantly to breathe, that Howard 
tells us the gaolers often would not accompany him into 
the felon ward ; and that he himself, on leaving them, found 
his clothes smelt so offensively that he could not travel in 
a post chaise with the windows shut, and that he therefore 
made his journeys subsequently on horseback ; the leaves of 
* Howard : State of Prisons, i. p. 7- 

B 2 


his memorandum book were often tainted so tliat he could 
not use it till it had been exposed to heat ; and in the same 
way the vinegar he carried as a preventive became "in- 
tolerably disagreeable." The want of ventilation was greatly 
increased by the rapacity of the gaolers, who, rather than 
pay the window tax, preferred to stifle their prisoners. 
For those who survived the horrors of such an existence, 
other evils were superadded hardly less atrocious. The 
indiscriminate herding together of all classes was one of 
the most flagrant of these ; yet it surely was sinful to 
associate in this way the innocent with the guilty, male 
and female, debtor and felon, youth and hardened offender. 
A rapid spread of demoralisation and wickedness was the 
natui'al and immediate result ; and prisons, meant to punish 
and deter, acted rather as hot-beds for the growth and multi- 
plication of offenders. Lunatics, again, and persons of weak 
understanding, were suffered to go at large in the midst of 
the rest, sometimes serving for idle sport, often terrifying and 
disturbing the other prisoners. 

Practices the most objectionable flourished without let or 
hindrance. Gaming in various forms : cards, dice, skittles, 
mississipi, fives, tennis, billiards, portobello ; * drunkenness, 
which was quite unchecked, and at the expense of the new 
comers. For this purpose blackmail, styled " garnish,^' was 
levied by the old hands. To pay or strip was the penalty,, 
and thus the poor became poorer, and the needy half naked. 
In all matters the prisoners were at the tender mercies of 
their gaolers, of whom in those days Sir William Blackstone 
asserts that they were "frequently a merciless race of men, 
and, by being conversant with scenes of misery, steeled against 
any tender sensation." f Their chief aim was to make their office 
profitable. Salaries that were often infinitesimal had to be 
eked out by the iniquitous system of " gaol fees.''^ Innocent 
men, acquitted in court, were haled back to prison till they 
paid the gaoler's dues. Extortion in every shape was openly 
practised. The keepers sold spirituous liquors, and bartered 
and trafficked with the inmates. Some gaols were private 

* Howard : State of Prisons, i. p. 13. 
t Blackstone, iv. ch. 22. 


property, and, the funds meant for their maintenance being 
misappropriated, the establishments were left to prosper as 
best they could. 

It was the custom to load all prisoners with irons so heavy 
that " walking, or even lying down to sleep, was difficult and 
painful.^'* Women even were not exempt from this barbarous 
infliction; and though gaolers pleaded safe custody as their 
excuse, Howard was convinced that avarice was the probable 
reason, "because county gaolers do sometimes grant dis- 
pensations, and indulge their prisoners, men as well as women, 
with what they call ' choice of irons ' if they pay for it ; " yet 
a learned judge. King, afterwards Lord Chancellor, would by 
no means admit of the pleading of "safe custody" as an 
■excuse for " ironing " unconvicted men, declaring that prisoners 
should be secured by "raising higher the prison walls/' One 
instance alone will show what were a gaoler's views of safe 
custody. Howard mentions that in 1768, at Ely, the prisoners 
were secured " by chaining them down on their backs upon 
3. floor, across which were several iron bars, with an iron 
-collar with spikes about their necks, and a heavy bar over 
their legs. An excellent magistrate, James Collyer, Esquire, 
presented an account of the case, accompanied by a drawing, 
to the King; with which His Majesty was much affected, and 
.gave immediate orders for a proper inquiry and redress." f 

A few items more, and the summary will be complete. 
Chaplains were appointed to most prisons, but they were never 
too zealous, and often failed miserably in the due discharge of 
their sacred office. There was little or no employment for 
■convicted prisoners. Lastly, gaol deliveries were of rare 
•occurrence, so that for ages, as it seemed, the innocent 
languished in prison awaiting trial. At Hull the assize was 
held but once in seven years ; and in one case a murderer, after 
being confined for three years, was eventually released, because 
in the interval the principal witness against him had died. 
So much for the gaols : idleness, drunkenness, vicious inter- 
course ; sickness, starvation, squalor ; cruelty, chains — what 
need to mention more ? 

Yet side by side with all this worked a sanguinary code 
* Howard : State of Prisons, i. p. 13. f Ibid. p. 291. 


of laws wliereLj capital punislimeiit was inflicted for even 
trivial offences. Death indeed was preferable to the living 
miseries that overtook the respited criminal. For those who 
had escaped the gallows, or passed scathless through the 
accumulated dangers of incarceration, the plantations remained. 
Since the time of Elizabeth, vagabonds under the Vagrancy- 
Act had been adjudged liable to banishment from the realm. 
The first actual record of transportation is in the reign of 
James I., when that monarch ordered 100 " dissolute persons '^ 
to be sent out to Virginia ; and Cromwell sent his political 
captives to work as slaves or indented servants to America or 
the West Indies : but in 1717 it was regularly introduced into 
our criminal law. An Act passed in that year commented on 
the inefficiency of the punishments in use, and pointed out 
that in many of His Majesty's colonies and plantations in 
America there was a great want of servants, who by their 
labour and industry would be the means of improving and 
making the said colonies more useful to the nation.* Persons- 
sentenced, not really but nominally, to death were henceforth 
handed over to contractors, who engaged to send them across 
the Atlantic, These contractors became vested with a right 
in the labour of the convicts for terms of seven or fourteen 
years, and this property was sold by public auction when the 
exiles arrived at the plantations. There was much competition 
for this labour at a date prior to the existence of negro slavery. 
To meet the demand the pernicious practice of kidnapping came 
into vogue, and flourished till the middle of the eighteenth 
century, when it was put down by law. The price paid,, 
according to the mercantile returns of sale, appears to have 
been about £20 a head ; but Howard publishes receipts showing- 
that for two guineas a felon could purchase his freedom from 
the contractor or captain of the ship. 

Prisons being what they were, it was hardly likely that 
the condition of places where felons awaited deportation would 
be much better ; accordingly we find Howard animadverting^ 
strongly on the treatment of the wretched transports. At 
several prisons he had found them chained to the floor. For 
those in the hulks on the Thames he spoke in such terms,. 
* Heath : Paper on Secondary Punishments. Appendix to Pari. Rep. 1837» 


when examined at the bar of the House, that a parliamentary 
inquiry was set on foot, which elicited, among other facts, that 
176 deaths occurred in twenty months among 672 prisoners. 
Again he quotes from a letter of certain " transport convict " 
contractors, that their cargoes (of human beings) reached them 
in such a state, and the subsequent mortality was so great, 
that they had serious misgivings about embarking again on 
similar ventures. Howard further remarks that he had taken 
"some pains to make inquiries concerning the state of trans- 
ports, with regard to whom many cruelties and impositions 
were practised, and whose condition was in many respects 
equally contrary to humanity and good policy," but he refrained 
from making these observations public, because by " a recent 
Act of Parliament a new turn was given to the matter." 

The condition of our prisons was in truth a standing 
disgrace to the country. But evidence is not wanting to 
show that even before Howard spoke they had begun to 
attract attention. As far back as the commencement of the 
century the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge 
had taken up the question, which was further discussed by a 
parliamentary inquiry in 1728. No tangible results followed 
in either case. The Society was probably powerless, and the 
publication of Blue Books even now does not ensure tbe 
remedy of abuses. Yet, like straws in running water, the 
action here alluded to served to show the current in which 
men's minds were set. A general sense of uneasiness and dis- 
satisfaction was widespread through the country, waiting to find 
voice and expression. The movement needed only an apostle 
to preach its doctrines, and it found one in Howard. In no 
other way can we account for the immediate attention which 
was attracted by his exposures. Even before he spoke, 
however, Mr. Popham, member for Taunton, had introduced 
a Bill into the House of Commons for the abolition of gaolers' 
fees, and the substitution of fixed salaries payable from the 
county rates. In 1774 this Bill, in an improved state, became 
law ; and from that time forth the progress of amelioration, 
though not too rapid, was at least continuous. 

The first person roused by Howard's revelations to the 
necessity for reform was the Duke of Eichmond, Lord 


Lieutenant of Sussex, who in 1776 built a new prison at 
Horsham, under Howard's advice and co-operation. The 
effects of the new system were so remarkable that twelve 
years afterwards a learned judge, Lord Mansfield, remarked 
that the number of prisoners for trial was reduced by half ; 
whereupon the Governor of Horsham gaol replied, " Although 
in days of yore my prisoners were very frequent in their visits 
to me, discharged at one assize and in again within the old 
walls long before the next, yet such, my lord, has been the 
effect of separate confinement, and of making a rogue think 
a little, and become acquainted with himself, that in the 
course of the last twelve years I can solemnly declare that 
only one prisoner has been twice within these walls." " Good 
God ! " replied the noble earl, " this language of experience is 
very forcible, and the fact ought to be more generally known." 

Such satisfactory results said much, of course, for the 
discipline of Horsham Gaol, and its effect in diminishing 
crime in the particular district in which it was situated. But 
if Horsham were empty — other prisons were perhaps more 
full. A '^ tight" prison may often clear its immediate neigh- 
bourhood of offenders ; but not necessarily because it reforms 
them — more probably because it drives them elsewhere. 
Thieves are quick to discover the localities that fright or 
favour them; and in those days they probably avoided 
Horsham as Europeans would the Gold Coast, or a Hindoo 
the Arctic regions. 

Howard then saw his remonstrance followed by some 
immediate action. The subject was now taken up warmly. 
He was more than once called to the bar of the House 
of Commons and closely interrogated. A thorough revision 
of the existing law was now contemplated ; not alone 
because he had spoken thus, but because it became 
imperative to find some substitute for transportation, which 
just at this time came suddenly to an end. The revolt of the 
American colonies had closed that outlet for our criminal 
sewage. The legislature, making a virtue of necessity, had 
discovered that " Transportation to His Majesty's colonies and 
plantations in America was found to be attended by various 
inconveniences, particularly by depriving the kingdom of 


many subjects whose labour migbt be useful to tlie com- 
munity ; " * and an Act was thereupon passed, providing that 
convicts sentenced, or liable to transportation, might be 
employed in certain kinds of hard labour until some other 
more effectual means could be found for disposing of 
them. The elaboration of this new method was left to Sir 
William Blackstone and Mr. Eden (afterwards Lord Auckland), 
in conjunction with Mr. Howard; and their joint labours pro- 
duced the Act for the estabKshment of Penitentiary Houses, 
which is dated 1778, and is styled the ] 9th Geo. III., c. 74. We 
have here, of course, the first foreshadowing of Millbank Peni- 
tentiary, though the first stone of that prison was not to be 
laid for another five-and-twenty years. The new principles 
of action were indicated by the 5th section of this Act, wherein 
the hope is expressed that " if any offenders convicted of crimes 
for which transportation has been usually inflicted were ordered 
to solitary imprisonment, accompanied by well regulated hard 
labour, and religious instruction, it might be the means under 
Providence, not only of deterring others, but also of reforming 
the individuals, and turning them to habits of industry." f 
And this prescription of separate confinement as the basis 
of treatment was no doubt the main feature of the Act ; but 
transportation was still permitted, and to other colonies beside 
the American, while hard labour at the hulks was provided 
for the most atrocious and daring offenders. 

It has been customary always to credit the Quakers of 
Pennsylvania with the earliest efforts for the amelioration 
of prisons and their inmates. But though they doubtless led 
the way in softening the harshness of the penal code that was 
universally short and sanguinary, they were clearly forestalled 
in prison reforms. It was not until 1786 that they estab- 
lished the well-known Walnut Street prison, + and this was 
years after the erection of the new gaol at Horsham. But 
if we were really at the head of the Americans in this respect, 
the Dutch were even before us — for Howard relates in his first 
edition, how he found a Maison de Force at Ghent, half finished, 
in 1775, wherein all the principles of cellular accommodation 
* 16 Geo. III., c. 43. 
t 19 Geo. III., c. 74, sec. 5. J See chapter viii. p. 141. 


and constant employment, as tliey afterwards obtained, wera 
already thorouglily recognised. And we ourselves did not get 
much beyond the mere enunciation of the theory. Practice 
on the part of the Government did not follow for many years, 
although in Susses the same Duke of Richmond was instru- 
mental in the erection of the new prison at Petworth, in 1871, 
while in other counties, notably at Oxford, Stafford and 
Gloucester, great efforts were made to keep pace with the- 
new ideas. That the legislature was really anxious also to 
carry out the suggestions of the Penitentiary Houses Act is 
undoubted : the delay arose in this wise. Three supervisors 
had been appointed, under the Act, to purchase ground for the 
proposed buildings, and to saperintend the erection of the 
prison which was to hold 600 male and 300 female prisoners. 
Mr. Howard was the first of these three, and with him were 
associated Dr. Fothergill, a great personal friend, and Mr. 
Whately. Unhappily differences of opinion arose among them 
as to the choice of site. Howard and Dr. Fothergill had 
selected a spot at Islington, Mr. Whately one at Limehouse. 
Both parties adhered obstinately to their own views. Mr. 
Whately's arguments are not now known, but Howard has 
made public the grounds on which he based his choice. 

That it had a healthy situation, and an abundant water 
supply, were amongst the most salient advantages. He 
considered it indispensable that the new prison should be 
built in London or close to it, because, being the first of its 
kind, and designed as a model for others in different parts of 
the kingdom, the success of the institution would depend 
largely on the constant attention of the persons named for its 
government. There could be no spot so suitable as Islington, 
except perhaps one upon the banks of the Thames ; but here 
Howard could not find what he required. A curious state- 
ment this, seeing that only a year or two later Jeremy 
Bentham bought, and at a cheap price, the lands in Tothill 
Fields, whereon Millbank was subsequently built. The 
disputes between the supervisors continued, for a couple of 
years. Persons were not indeed wanting to act as arbitrators, 
but their name was legion. Among them were included the 
Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the 


twelve judges, and tlie Lord Mayor. Naturally all hope of 
uniformity in action or opinion was quite out of the question. 
So Howard gave up the fight, and resigned his appointment. 
His friend Fothergill was now dead, and he begged therefore 
to "decline all further concern in, the business/' though he 
had at one time thought that his observations upon similar 
institutions in foreign countries would have qualified him in 
some degree to carry out the scheme.* 

It is indeed interesting to observe, at this distance of 
time, how thoroughly this great man understood the subject 
to which he had devoted his life. In his prepared plan for 
the erection of the prison he anticipates exactly the method 
we are pursuing to-day, after a century of experience. " The 
Penitentiary Houses," he says, " I would have built in a great 
measure by the convicts. I will suppose that a power is 
obtained from Parliament to employ such of them as are 
now at work on the Thames, or some of those who are in 
the county gaols, under sentence of transportation, as may 
be thought most expedient. In the first place, let the 
surrounding wall, intended for full security against escapes, 
be completed, and proper lodges for the gatekeepers. Let 
temporary buildings of the nature of bari^acks be erected 
in some part of this enclosure which will be wanted the least, 
till the whole is finished. Let one or two hundred men, with 
their proper keepers, and under the direction of the builder, 
be employed in levelling the ground, digging out the founda- 
tion, serving the masons, sawing the timber and stone; and 
as I have found several convicts who were carpenters, masons, 
and smiths, these may be employed in their own branches of 
trade, since such work is as necessary and proper as any other 
in which they can be engaged. Let the people thus employed 
chiefly consist of those whose term is nearly expired, or 
who are committed for a short term ; and as the ground is 
suitably prepared for the builders, the garden made, the wells 
dug, and the building finished, let those who are to be 
dismissed go off gradually, as it would be very improper to 
send them back to the hulks or gaols again." f 

Suggestions such as these may have seemed far-fetched to 
* State of Prisons, i. p. 226. f Ibid. p. 221. 


those to whom they were propounded ; but that his plan of 
action was simple and feasible, is now most satisfactorily 
proved. Elam Lynds, the celebrated governor of Sing-Sing 
prison, in the State of New York, acted precisely in this 
manner, encamping out on the open with his hundreds of 
prisoners, and compelling them in this way to build their 
own prison-house, cell by cell, as bees would build a hive. 
De Tocqueville, commenting on this seemingly strange episode 
of prison history, observes that " the manner in which Mr. 
Elam Lynds builfc Sing-Sing would no doubt raise incredulity, 
were not the fact quite recent, and publicly known in the 
United States. To understand it we have only to realise 
what resources the new prison discipline of America placed at 
the disposal of an energetic man." * 

But the practice is precisely similar to that which we 
p^ursue now when new convict prisons are constructed in this 
c^!\untry, and an actual example may at this moment be seen 
in "the immediate neighbourhood of London. 

In December, 1875, the writer of these pages commenced 
operations in the new prison at Wormwood Scrubs. Free 
labour had surrounded the site with a wooden palisading, 
and the first half of a temporary prison to accommodate one 
hundred had just been roofed in. But only a few cells were 
completed ; they were of corrugated iron, the external wall 
being strengthened by a casing, one inch thick. The fix'st 
detachment consisted of six " special class " convicts, men who 
had behaved uniformly well and had still but one year to serve. 
These six took possession of the unfinished buildings and 
gradually completed cell after cell ; as each was ready, it was 
occupied, and when one hundred convicts were collected, the 
second building for another hundred was commenced. Mean- 
while, clay was being dug for brick making, rough roads were 
laid, and other necessary works were undertaken. By the begin- 
ning of summer the foundations of the first permanent block 
were laid, and the first batch of prison-made " stock " bricks 
had been burnt. From that time forth progress was con- 
tinuous : within a couple of years the first block of three 
hundred and fifty cells were completed, the second commenced, 
* Beaumont and De Tocqueville's Visit to tlie States. 


and so until now in 1884, tlie whole establishment is in full 
working order. A similar enterprise has just been set on foot 
at Dover, where vast harbour works will shortly be under- 
taken by convict labour. The preliminaries at Dover follow 
precisely the same lines as those at Wormwood Scrubs. 

The scheme for the national penitentiary was not suffered 
to fall to the ground because Howard declined to act. New 
supervisors were appointed — Sir Gilbert Eliot (afterwards 
Lord Minto), Sir Charles Bunbury, and Mr. Bowdler — who 
took up the task where their predecessors had left it. This 
choice of a suitable site was surrounded by many difl&culties. 
A portion of Wandsworth Fields was at length selected as 
seeming to fulfil the required conditions ; but no sooner was 
the spot reported to the Lord Chancellor for approval, than an 
agitation was set up in the neighbourhood to protest against 
the introduction of a prison into those parts. People possess- 
ing landed property thereabouts had sufficient influence to 
secure the rejection of the site, and the supervisors, after 
a further search, fixed upon certain lands at Battersea Else, 
seventy-nine acres in extent, which, as the proprietors held 
out for terms, were eventually assessed by a jury at the sum 
of £6600. 

And now everything was in fair working order. Plans 
for the new buildings were actually prepared, and operations 
about to commence, when the Government suddenly decided 
to suspend further proceedings. The principle of trans- 
portation had never been entirely abandoned. Western 
Africa had indeed been selected for a penal settlement, and 
a few convicts sent there in spite of the deadly character 
of the climate. But the statesmen of the day had fully 
recognised that they had no right to increase the punish- 
ment of imprisonment by making it also capital; and the 
Government, despairing of finding a suitable place of exile, 
were about to commit themselves entirely to the plan of 
home penitentiaries, when the discoveries of Captain Cook in 
the South Seas drew attention to the vast territories of 
Australasia. Everything spoke in favour of the adoption 
of this island continent as a penal colony j it was healthy,. 
remote, and it was believed to possess within itself undefined 


but inexliaustible elements of wealth. There was no doubt 
mucb to recommend the scheme of transportation. As it then 
• presented itself it must have possessed irresistible attractions, 
even to minds philosophic and acute. The criminal, removed 
to a mysterious distance from old haunts and dangerous 
associates, was to be punished by exile ; but at the same time 
he was encouraged to make a new start in life and in a new 
country, where, safe from competition, reclaimed and indus- 
trious, he might win rich harvests from the virgin soil. It might 
reasonably be expected that eventually a large and prosperous 
community would arise in the antipodes, capable of absorbing 
all the criminality of Britain. Of the varying fortunes of this 
new settlement I shall have occasion to speak hereafter, and we 
shall then be able to judge by practical results the dictum of a 
learned writer, who years before had declared that " the effect 
of banishment, as practised in England, is often beneficial to 
th>s criminal, and always injurious to the community . ^^ * 

VEmbarking hotly on the new project, the Government could 
not well afford to continue steadfast to the principle of 
penitentiaries, and the latter might have fallen to the ground 
altogether, but for the interposition of Jeremy Bentham. 
This remarkable man published, in 1791, his "Panopticon, or 
the Inspection House," a valuable work on prison discipline, 
and followed it, in 1792, by a formal proposal to erect a prison 
on the plan he advocated. His scheme was so peculiar that it 
deserves to be described, more especially as the present Millbank 
Penitentiary is often supposed to have grown out of his proposal. 
As a matter of fact, however, except in the selection of site 
and the purchase of the ground on which the prison now 
stands, Bentham was in no way connected with Millbank. 
Bentham states in his proposal that, " having turned his 
Thoughts to the Penitentiaiy System from its first origin, 
and having lately contrived a Building in which any number 
of Persons may be kept within Reach of being Inspected 
during every moment of their lives, and having made out, as 
he flatters himself, to Demonstration, that the only eligible 
mode of managing an Establishment of such a Nature in a 
Building of such a construction would be by Contract, has been 
* Eden : Principles of Penal Law, p. 33. 


induced to make public tlie following proposal for maintaining 
and employing convicts in general, or such of tliem as would 
otherwise be Confined on Board the Hulks, for twenty-five 
per cent, less than it costs Government to maintain them 
there at present ; deducting also the Average Value of the 
Work at present performed by them for the Public; upon 
the Terms of his receiving the Produce of their Labour."* 
Upon these terms he engaged as follows : — 

"1. To furnish the prisoners with, a constant supply of wholesome 
food not limited in quantity, but adequate to each man's desires. 

2. To keep them clothed in a state of tightness and neatness superior 

to what is usual even in the improved prisons. 

3. To keep them supplied with beds and bedding competent to their 

situations, and in a state of cleanliness scarcely anywhere con- 
joined to liberty. 

4. To ensure them a sufficient supply of artificial warmth and light. 

5. To kee^j from them, in conformity with the practice so happily 

received, every kind of strong and spirituous liquor. 

6. To maintain them in a state of inviolable though mitigated seclusion, 

in assorted companies, without any of those opportunities of 
promiscuous association which in other places disturb, if not 
destroy, whatever good effect can be expected from occasional 

7. To give them an interest in their work by allowing them a share in 

the produce. 

8. To turn the prison into a school ; thereby returning its inhabitants 

into the world instructed in the most useful branches of vulgar 
learning, as well as in some trade or occupation whereby they 
may afterwards earn their livelihood." 

These are a few of the engagements into which he entered ; 
but there were others. He bound himself to provide his 
prisoners with spiritual and medical assistance ; to ensure them 
work on discharge by fitting up a subsidiary establishment, 
where they would labour on at the trades they learnt in 
prison ; and to lay by for them (out of their earnings) " the 
foundation-stone of a provision for old age upon the plan of 
the annuity societies." To the Crown and to the public he was 
•equally profuse in his promises. For every prisoner who might 
escape from his custody he agreed to be mulcted a certain 

* Eeport of Select Committee on Police and Convict Establishments, 
26 June, 1798. Appendix E. 


penal sum ; and to compel him to be careful of their health, he- 
bound himself to forfeit a sum of money for every one wha 
died over and above a certain rate, " grounded on an average 
of the number of Deaths, not among imprisoned Felons, but 
among persons of the same ages in a state of Liberty within 
the Bills of Mortality." * He was ready, moreover, to be 
personally responsible for the reformatory efficacy of his 
management, and even to make amends, in most instances, for 
any accident of its failure, by paying a sum of money for 
every prisoner convicted of a felony after his discharge, at a 
rate increasing according to the number of years he had been 
under his (Jeremy Bentham^s) care. For one year the fine 
was £10, and £5 for every additional year up to £30, which 
was the outside limit; but the money was to be paid im- 
mediately on conviction, and to be applied to the indemnifica- 
tion of the sufferers by the felony. 

^ Finally, by "neatness and cleanliness, and Diversity of 
Bn\ployment, by Variety of Contrivance, and above all by that 
Peculiarity of Construction, which, without any unpleasant or 
hazardous vicinity, enables the whole Establishment to be 
inspected at a view from a commodious and insulated Room in 
the centre, the Prisoners remaining unconscious of being thus 
observed, it should be his study to render it a spectacle such 
as -Persons of all Classes would, in the way of amusement, be 
curious to partake of ; and that not only on Sundays at the 
time of Divine Service, but on ordinary Days at Meal Times or 
Times of Work ; providing thereby a System of Superintend- 
ence, universal, unchangeable, and uninterrupted, the most 
effectual and indestructible of all securities against abuse.^' 
The outlines of the plan on which this model prison was 
to be constructed were also indicated in Mr. Bentham's 
memorandum : — " A circular building, an iron cage, glazed, 
a glass lantern as large as Ranelagh, with the cells on 
the outer circumference," — such was his main idea.f 

* This was eventually arranged by a bargain of the nature of an 
insurance, by which the Government promised to pay £4000 per annum 
for 1000 persons, on condition that he should pay £100 for every death 
which should take place within the year above 40. 

f Bentham claimed for his plan that it would be found applicable to 


Within, in the very centre, an inspection station was so 
fixed that every cell and every part of a cell could be at 
all times closely observed; but, by means of blinds and 
other contrivances, the inspectors were concealed, unless 
they saw fit to show themselves, from the view of the 
prisoners ; by which " a sentiment of a sort of invisible 
omnipresence " was to pervade the whole place. There 
was to be " solitude or limited seclusion ad libitum ; " but 
"unless for punishment, limited seclusion in assorted com- 
panies was to be preferred. As we have seen, Bentham 
proposed to throw the place open as a sort of public lounge, 
and to protect the prisoners from ill-treatment they were to be 
enabled, by means of tubes reaching from each cell to the 
general centre, to hold conversations with the visitors. " The 
superintendence thus bestowed," says Mr. Bentham iu his 
evidence before the committee on Peniten/ary Houses, in 1811, 
*' by a promiscuous assemblage of unknown, and therefore un- 
paid, ungarbled, and incorruptible inspectors, or in a word, by 
the public at large — that is, by such individuals as curiosity 
and the love of amusement (the most universally operative 
springs of action that apply to such a case), mixed with any 
better and rarer motives, may happen to attract — this is what, 
from first to last, I have all along spoken of as being among 
my principal dependencies, viz., for security against abuse and 
imperfection in every shape ; but the banquet offered to 
ouriosity will be attractive in proportion to the variety, and, if 
such a term may be here endured, to the brilliancy of the 
scene." Mr. Bentham intended, I believe, to light up the 
prison at night by reflection. 

In theory Bentham's project may read well ; but it is to be 

all kinds of establisliments, no matter how different or even opposite 
the purpose. " Whether it be that of punishing the incorrigible, guard- 
ing the insane, reforming the vicions, confining the suspected, employing 
the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the 
willing in any branch of industry, or training the rising race in the path 
of education ; in a word, whether it be applied to the purposes of per- 
petual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for confinement before 
trial, or penitentiary houses, or houses of correction, or workhouses, or 
manufactories, or madhouses, or hospitals, or schools." — Bentham's 
Works, iv. p. 40. 



feared that in execution it would liave been found imprac- 
ticable. It met with an enthusiastic reception, however, and 
was warmly embraced by Mr. Pitt, and Lord Dundas, the 
Home Secretary. Nevertheless, secret influences hindered its 
adoption,* and it was not till 1794 that an Act was passed 
containing a draft of the contract between Bentham and the 
Treasury. A prison to contain a thousand convicts, together 
with the necessary chapel, storehouses, warehouses, and quarters 
for officials, was to be built according to the agreement for 
£19,000. The whole edifice Bentham contracted to run up 
within twelve months of the time that he was put in possession 
of the ground. For each convict in his charge up to a thousand 
he was to receive £12 per annum, over that £18 ; but in addition 
to this he was to become invested with the right to retain 
and apply to his own use the produce of, and profit upon, the 
labour of all the prisoners. He himself, or his brother, Samuel 
Bentham, who was a general in the Russian service, was to be 
nominated governor; and touching this appointment Bentham 
writes, ''The station of gaoler is not in common account a very 
elevated one ; the addition of contractor has not much tendency 
to rai": J it. He (Bentham) little dreamt when he first launched 
intc 'iihe subject, that he was to become a suitor, and perhaps- 
ia vain, for such an office. But Inventions unpractised might 
be in want of the Inventor, and a situation thus clipped of 
emoluments while it was loaded with obligation might be in 
want of candidates. Penetrated therefore with the importance 
of the end, he would not suffer himself to see anything un- 
pleasant or discreditable in the means." Mr. Bentham seems 
to have hoped to make his new business one of considerable 
profit. His brother, the general, had invented a plan of 
executing by machinery, " without the aid of either dexterity 
or goodwill, the most considerable branches of wood work,, 
besides many branches of stone work, and metal work," f and 
the two Benthams were "on the look-out for a steam engine,'^ 
when it seemed to Jeremy that convict labour would form an 

* It Las been said that personal hostility towards Bentham, because 
he was such a Eadical, led George III. to throw cold water upon the- 
project of the Panopticon. 

t Exam, of J. Bentham, Pari. Rep. 1811. Appendix G. 


admirable substitute. "Neither goodwill nor dexterity '' 
could be counted upon " when dealing with the prisoners ." 

According to this Act above mentioned the sum of £2000 
was advanced to Mr. Bentham, in order that he might make 
the necessary preparations. Four years later we find the 
project still hanging fire.* The preparations had been made ; 
cast iron work, intended for the framework of the Panopticon, 
had been ordered to the amount of the whole £2000, and a 
great portion of it had been delivered; and Bentham was 
otherwise out of pocket to the extent of £9000. In the in- 
terval, too, the capital that was to have set the new invention 
" agoing " was " gone." " My brother's whole time," Bentham 
states, " is engrossed by his official situation, -j- and at my time 
of life, and after my experience, it is now too late for me to 
return to a manufacturing speculation into which no prospect 
of ordinary advantage would even then have tempted me." 
He clearly looked for indemnification, but was yet indisposed 
to relinquish his scheme. Before the same committee he gave 
evidence as to the site he proposed to purchase, that decided 
upon by the first supervisors at Battersea Rise having been for 
some reasons, not now apparent, abandoned. The new situation 
was a part of Tothill Fields, lying on both sides of the present 
Vauxhall-bridge Road, and amounting in all to fifty-three 
acres. The advantages of the site were chiefly its vicinity to 
the metropolis, and to water carriage — two points, it will be 
remembered, that were insisted upon by Howard, prompt 
communication with markets and ready inspection being con- 
sidered indispensable. Eventually this land was purchased 
from Lord Salisbury for £12,000, and conveyed to Jeremy 
Bentham as feoffee for the Crown. But the undertaking still 
languished on from year to year. These were stirring times, 
when amidst the bitter strife of political parties, invasion 
threatened, and the " Corsican " kept all the world in dread. 

Still, in 1810, active steps were taken to reopen the 
question, thanks to the vigour with which Sir Samuel Romilly 
called public attention to the want of penitentiaries. Nothing 
now would please the House of Commons but immediate 

* Exam, of J. Bentham, Pari. Eep. 1811. Appendix G. 
t As Commissioner for the ITavy. 


action; and this eagerness to begin is in strange contrast 
with the previous long years of delay. But Mr. Ryder, the 
Home Secretary, gained his point that a committee should first 
inquire fully into the matter. George Holford, Esq., M.P., was 
chairman of this committee, and among its number were 
Mr. Eyder, Sir Samuel Romilly, Mr. Wilberforce, Sir Charles 
Long, and Sir Evan Nepean. Their report, which was laid upon 
the table in May, 1811, fully recognised the importance of 
attempting reformation by the seclusion, employment, and 
religious instruction of prisoners, but disapproved of the Pan- 
opticon scheme, inasmuch as it depended upon the personal cha- 
racter of one man, and the favourable opinion entertained of the 
construction of the building proposed by him, rather than upon 
the principles on which prisons had hitherto been conducted ; 
and they pointed out that under its provisions the management 
of the convicts might in course of time pass out of the hands of 
the original contractor, while there was no guarantee of similar 
good qualities, or of similar capacity, in the superintendent who 
might from time to time be appointed to succeed him. The 
committee therefore was disposed to follow rather in design 
the original proposals of Howard than the later plans and 
suggestion of Bentham. 

^hese proposals having been developed with considerable 
success, but on a small scale, first at the Gloucester Penitentiary 
House, established in 1791, and later in the House of Correction 
at Southwell, the committee recommended the immediate 
erection of a penitentiary for the counties of London and 
Middlesex. A part of the business of this committee had 
been the settlement of Mr. Bentham^s outstanding claims, 
arising from the non-performance of the contract to which I 
have already referred. It now appeared that the £19,000, which 
had been considered quite sufficient by Mr. Bentham for the 
whole of his Panopticon, was really far short of the mark. 
Bentham stated that he grounded his estimate on the assurances 
of an architect since deceased, and he was not disposed now to 
carry out his bargain. Still less was he prepared to be satisfied 
with £12 per annum for any prisoners of whom he might take 
charge. These alterations in his original scheme are interest- 
ing as showing to some extent its theoretical and unpractical 



character. But it was not contemplated to reopen negotiations 
with Bentham, except in so far as he was entitled to remunera- 
tion for his trouble and original outlay. Eventually his claims 
were referred, by Act of Parliament, to arbitration, and so 
settled. The same Act empowered certain supervisors to be 
appointed hereafter, to become possessed of the lands in Tothill 
Fields, which Bentham had bought on behalf of the Govern- 
ment. These lands were duly transferred to Lord Farnborough, 
George Holford, Esq., M.P., and the Eev. Mr. Becher, and 
under their supervision Millbank Penitentiary as it now stands 
was commenced and finished. 




a Chapel, 
c Pentagons. 

Boundary Wall. 



The lands wMcli Bentliam bouglit from Lord Salisbury were 
a portion of tlie wide area known then as Tothill Fields; 
speaking more exactly, they lay on either side of the present 
Vauxkall-bridge Road. This road, which was constructed 
after the purchase, intersected the property, dividing it into 
two lots of thirty-eight and fifteen acres respectively. It was 
on a slice of the larger piece that the prison was ultimately 
built, on ground lying close by the river. This neighbourhood, 
now known as an outskirt of Pimlico, was then a low marshy 
locality, with a soil that was treacherous and insecure, es- 
pecially at the end towards Millbank Row. People were alive 


only a few years ago, wlio had shot snipe in fhe bogs and 
quagmires round about tliis spot. A large distillery, owned 
by a Mr. Hodge, stood near the proposed site of the prison ; 
but otherwise these parts were but sparsely covered with 
houses. Bentham, speaking of the site he purchased, declared 
that it might be considered "in no neighbourhood at all." 
No house of any account, superior to a tradesman's or a 
public-house, stood within a quarter of a mile of the intended 
prison, and there were hereabouts already one other prison, 
and any number of almshouses, established at various dates. 
Of these the most important were Hill's, Butler's, Wicher's, 
and Palmer's — all left by charitable souls of these names ; 
and Stow says, that Lady Dacre also, wife of Gregory, Lord 
Dacre of the south, left £100 a year to support almshouses 
which were built in these fields "more towards Cabbage Lane," 
Here, also, stands the Green Coats Hospital, erected by 
C/harles I., but endowed by Charles II. for twenty-five boys 
and six girls with a schoolmaster to teach them. '^ Adjoining 
this hospital" (I am still quoting Stow) ''^is a bridewell, a 
place for the correction of ^such loose and idle livers as are 
taken up within the liberty of Westminister, and thither sent 
by the Justices of the Peace, for correction — which is whipping 
and beating of Hemp (a punishment very well suited for idlers),' 
and are thence discharged by order of the Justices as they in 
their wisdom find occasion." Again, Stow remarks: "^In 
Tothill Fields, which is a large spacious place, there are 
<?ertain pest-houses ; now made use of by twelve poor men 
and their wives, so long as it shall please God to keep us 
from the Plague. These Pest-houses are built near the. Meads, 
and remote from people." Hospitals, bridewells, alms and 
pest-houses — these, the chief occupants of these lonely fields, 
formed no unfitting society for the new neighbour that was 
.soon to be established amongst them. 

As the prison, when completed, took its name from the 
Mill Bank, that margined the Thames close at hand, I must 
pause to refer to this embankment. I can find no record 
giving the date of the constx'uction of this bank, which was 
no doubt intended to check the overflow of the river, and 
possibly, also, to act as one side of the mill-race, which served 


the Abbot of Westminster's mill. This mill, which is in facfe 
the real sponsor of the locality, is marked on the plan of 
Westminster from Nordon's survey, taken in Queen Elizabeth's 
reign, in 1573. It stands on the bank of the Thames, almost 
opposite the present corner of Abingdon and Great College 
Streets; but it is not quite clear whether it was turned by 
water from the river, brought along Millbank, or by the stream 
that came from Tothill Street, which, taking the corner of th& 
present Rochester Row, flowed along the line of the present 
Great College Street, and under Millbridge to the Queen's 
slaughtcv-house. " The Millbank,'' says Stowe,* " is a very 
long place, which beginneth by Lindsay House, or rather by 
the Palace Yard, and runneth up to Peterborough House,, 
which is the farthest house. The part from against College 
Street unto the Horse Ferry hath a good row of buildings on 
the east side, next to the Thames, which is mostly taken up 
with large wood-mongers' yards, and Brew-houses; and hera 
is ,a water house which serveth this side of the town; the 
Noirth Side is but ordinary; except one or two houses by the 
end of College Street ; and that part beyond the Horse Ferry 
hatn a .very good row of houses, much inhabited by the gentry, 
by reason of the pleasant situation and prospect of the Thames. 
The l^arl of Peterborough's house hath a large courtyard 
before it and a fine garden behind it, but its situation is but 
bleak in the winter, and not over healthful, as being so near 
the low meadows on the South and West Parts." But it was 
on one edge of these low, well-wooded meadows that Millbank 
Penitentiary was by-and-by to be built. 

So much for the antiquities of the place. After careful 
consideration of the various advantages and disadvantages of 
the site, the new supervisors were content to abide by the choice- 
Bentham had made. It was something to have a place ready 
to hand. The difficulty of making suitable selection had been 
felt on previous occasions, and the supervisors were by no 
means disposed to waste further time upon a new search. 
Moreover, no opposition was to be feared from those who. 
resided near the spot. The dwellers round about were hardly 
of a class to secure attention to their complaints, even if they 
* Book vi. p. 66. 


tad been minded to resist tlie establishment of a prison in 
their midst — which they were not. Besides, it had been known 
for years that a prison was meant to occupy these lands ; 
therefore those who had not objected already could hardly do 
so now after so great a lapse of time. The spot was deemed 
healthy, nothing to the contrary having then transpired ; and 
in situation was convenient, lying as it did close to London. 
and to the great highway of the Thames. Accordingly, upon 
the 12th of June, 1812, the three supervisors, having met at 
the State Paper Oflice, proceeded to business. 

Their first act was to decide upon the plan for -the new 
buildings. This had been thrown open to competition by 
public advertisement; and a reward was offered for the 
three best tenders. Forty-three were sent in, and the first 
prize was gained by Mr. William Williams, of No. 11, Tichborne 
Street, Golden Square. His design, however, was not con- 
sidered perfect, and the supervisors reserved to themselves the 
right to make such changes as might appear desirable. The 
revised drawings, prepared by Mr. Williams, were subsequently 
submitted to Mr. Hardwicke, the appointed architect, a gentle- 
man of reputation in his profession, who had already gained a 
prize for designing a female prison. This had happened at the 
time when the erection of penitentiai'ies under Geo. III., c. 19, 
had been in agitation. Mr. Hardwicke gained the prize for a 
female prison ; that for a male prison was carried off by Mr. 
Blackburn, an architect of eminence, who had built or rebuilt 
half the county gaols in the kingdom. Mr. Hardwicke's 
remuneration was fixed at a commission of 2| per cent, on the 
value of all work done, or upon the estimated cost of the 
buildings. This estimate, according to a statement from Mr. 
Hardwicke,* amounted to £259,725, but a further sum of 
£42,690 was also required for the foundations. Accommodation 
was to be provided at this price for 600 prisoners, male and 
female, in equal proportions ; and the whole building was 
intended solely for the confinement of offenders in the counties 
of London and Middlesex. It was at that time contemplated 
to erect a number of other similar prisons in various parts of 
the country, but the establishment of these " district " or, as 
* Supervisors' Minute Book, 1812. 


tliey were to "be styled, "circuif prisons, was ultimately 
abandoned on tlie score of expense. By subsequent decisions, 
arrived at after tlie work was first undertaken, tlie size of Mill- 
bank grew to greater proportions, till it was ultimately made 
capable of containing, as one great national penitentiary, " all 
such transportable convicts as were not sent abroad or confined 
in the hulks/' Of course its cost increased 2yciri imssu with its 
size. By the time the prison was finally completed, the total 
expenditure had risen as high as £458,000. And over and 
above this enormous sum, the outlay of many additional 
thousands was needed within a few years, for the repairs or 
restoration of unsatisfactory work. 

In order that future references and descriptions may be 
intelligible to the reader, and before proceeding to record the 
details of construction, it may be well to describe at once the 
appearance of the building when actually finished, and as it 
stands, in fact, at the present day. 

" The Penitentiary,' ' as it is still commonly called, looks 
on London maps like a six-pointed star-fort ; built, say, against 
catapults and old-fashioned engines of war. The central 
point is the chapel, a circular building which, with the open 
space around it, covers rather more than half an acre of ground. 
A narrow building, three storeys high, and forming a hexagon, 
surrounds the chapel, with which it is connected at three 
points by covered passages. This chapel and its annular belt, 
the hexagon, forms the omphalos of the whole system. It is 
the centre of the circle, from which the several bastions of the 
star-fort radiate. Each of these salients is in shape a pentagon, 
and there are six of them, one opposite each side of the 
hexagon. They are built three storeys high, on four sides of 
the pentagon, having a small tower at each external angle ; 
while on the fifth side a wall about nine feet high runs 
parallel to the adjacent hexagon. In these pentagons are the 
prisoners' cells, while the inner space in each, in area aboat 
two-thirds of an acre, contain the airing yards, grouped round 
a tall central watch-tower. The ends of the pentagons join 
the hexagons at certain points called junctions. The whole 
space covered by these buildings has been estimated at 


about seven acres ; and sometliing more than that amount is 
included between them and the boundary wall, which takes the 
shape of an octagon, and beyond which was a moat now filled up. 

Such is a general outline of the plan of the prison. Any 
more elaborate description might prove as confusing as is the 
labyrinth within to those who enter without such clues to 
guide them as are afforded by familiarity and long practice. 
There was one old warder who served for years at Millbank, 
and rose through all the grades to a position of trust, who was 
yet unable, to the' last, to find his way about the premises. 
He carried with him always a piece of chalk, with which he 
" blazed " his path as the American backwoodsman does the 
forest trees. Angles every twenty yards, winding stan-cases, 
dark passages, innumerable doors and gates — all these 
bewilder the stranger, and contrast strongly with the extreme 
simplicity of modern prison architecture. But indeed Millbank, 
with its intricacy and massiveness of structure, is suggestive 
of an order that has past. It is one of the last specimens of 
an age to which Newgate also belongs ; a period when the safe 
custody of criminals could only be compassed, people thought, 
by granite blocks and ponderous bolts and bars. Such 
notions were really a legacy of medisevalism, bequeathed by 
the ruthless chieftains, who imprisoned offenders within their 
own castle walls. Many such keeps and castles still exist, and 
till very lately served as gaols or houses of correction for their 
immediate neighbourhood. They seem to us now-a-days 
clearly out of date; yet not a hundred years ago prison 
architects looked upon them as models of prison construction, 
and, not unnaturally, based all their designs on a similarly 
substantial style. In these matters modern experience has 
worked an entire revolution. Moral supervision has, to a 
certain extent, replaced mere physical restraint. It is found 
that prisoners can be more effectually guarded by warders of 
flesh and blood than by passive chains and huge senseless 
stones, provided only that there is above all the sleepless eye 
of a stringent systematic discipline. 

But to return to the supervisors in the year 1812. I have 
said that the original estimate prepared by Mr. Hardwicke, 


tlie arcMtecfc, amounted to £259,725. The following 
detail of the cost of each item :* 

Chapel in centre ... ... ... ... 9,671 

Hexagon, three storeys high, with governor's, 

chaplain's, surgeon's, and other quarters 
Six pentagons, with cells, work-rooms, towers, &c., 

at £28,422 each 
Boundary wall, 17 ft. high from ground level and 

10 ft. below ... 
Lodge and gateway at entrance . . . 
Stoves for heating 
Sewers and drains 
Planking for foundations 
Raising ground in all the courts... 
Pitting up, and clerk of works . . . 
Unforeseen expenses ... 

Total £259,725 

Additional for the foundations ... ... £42,690 



. 4,500 

. 8,400 

. 5,000 

. 5,000 

. 6,000 

. 5,000 

. 5,000 

The first part of the work set on foot was the boundary- 
wall, which was commenced towards the end of 1812, the 
contractors being Messrs. Want & Richardson, who had 
already built the Military College at Sandhurst, and Covent 
Garden Theatre under Mr. Oopeland. In the spring of 1813 
contracts were entered into for the erection of the first pentagon, 
the foundations of which were in progress by June of that 
year. It was well known that the soil at Millbank was of such 
a nature as to render the establishment of a solid edifice 
thereon a matter of great difiiculty and expense. The super- 
visors, fully alive to this, gave the matter their earliest and 
closest attention. The site was examined by them in January, 
1812, when strong clay was discovered at no great distance 
from the surface. On the other hand, a Mr. Cook, temporary 
lessee of the ground, declared that Bentham had bored a 
distance of fourteen feet and found nothing but loose soil and 
peat, utterly unfit to support the proposed superincumbent 
weight of buildings, and that the ground had been condemned 
accordingly. Upon this the supervisors in May again examined 
for themselves, and had a deep hole dug, by which means they 

* Supervisors' Minute Book. 


"came upon a bed of tenacious clay eight feet in thickness. 
Mr. Cook then, to save his judgment, stated that the strata 
were uncertain ; in one place clay, in another peat or gravel ; 
and such, by new borings, was found to be the case. Planking 
was now proposed as a " substruction ; " but before finally 
deciding, the supervisors visited Bethlehem Hospital ("Bedlam"), 
just then in course of erection, in St. George's Fields, and 
found that in uncertain spots the foundations were supported 
on broad flags of Yorkshire stone. 

About this time an architect of Blackheath, Mr. Alexander, 
came forward and offered to contract for the foundations, on a 
new and mysterious method of his own, which was to be 
" independent of piles, planking, and brick piers or arches.^' 
The supervisors declined to adopt a scheme which was veiled 
in so much secrecy, notwithstanding Mr. Alexander's assurance 
that his plan would not be " subject to any alteration by floods, 
damp, heat, frost, or any failures by time ; and that it should 
be neither pervious to vermin (rats, etc.), nor liable to be 
undermined by prisoners." Nevertheless, the supervisors were 
honestly anxious to put this important preliminary on a 
thoroughly satisfactory basis, and, having first experimented 
for themselves with various materials, all heavily weighted 
with from two to three hundred tons, they requested Mr. 
Hardwicke to consult a number of eminent engineers and 
architects. These gentlemen — Messrs. Rennie, Lewis, 
Cockerell, and Browne — having examined the site, reported 
that by boring seven to twelve feet down below the existing 
surface they had found the substrata to consist of alluvial 
soil, made up of "vegetable earth, light clay, and more-log," 
after which came a sound bed of gravel. They were of opinion 
therefore that the earth under the actual site of the proposed 
buildings should be excavated down to this gravel, and that a 
mass of puddled walling, of a breadth exceeding that of the 
lines of buildings, should take the place of the excavated earth. 
The puddled walling was to consist of " gravel or ballast only, 
having perpendicular sides cast and mixed in lime-water, with 
a small quantity of sand; and upon this foundation the prison 
walls could be erected with security." No such precautions 
were deemed necessary for the boundary wall ; as the weight 


■was slight, a rubble foundation-wall of stone, rammed and two' 
feet deep, would be sufficient. The outer lodge and gateway 
were to be built on a plan suggested by Mr. Hardwicke, partly 
on an artificial rubble mound and partly on piles. All these 
points are important, as will be seen later on. 

Drainage and water supply were two questions that came 
up early for decision. To provide the water, Mr. Braithwaite, 
the engineer, was called in, who proposed two methods — either 
to lay on Thames water through a six or seven-inch main, 
storing it in a central reservoir to be filled every tide, or to 
sink a deep well to a certain main-spring which he had dis- 
covered, and which was certain to furnish an ample supply of 
the finest soft water. In both cases engines would be required 
to raise the water to the level of the cisterns at the top of the 
proposed buildings. The latter of these methods was adopted 
in the first instance, but it was afterwards found necessary to 
have recourse instead to the Thames, because Mr. Braithwaite 
on analysis found the spring water impure. For the purposes 
of drainage permission was given for the commissioners of 
sewers for the city of Westminster to do away with all open 
ditches, and substitute a main drain from the proposed site 
through the embankment and into the river. Apprehension 
was entertained lest the lowlands should be flooded when the 
embankment was cut through, and a proviso in the agreement 
ruled that no opening should be made till the ground area of 
the new works had actually been raised. 

It very soon became apparent that the ground on which 
they were to build was too treacherous to be much depended 
upon. The part of the boundary wall nearest the Thames, 
which was now six feet high, sank, and was thrown out of the 
upright. It had been built on a very thin substratum of clay, 
and, like the rest of the wall, had very insufficient foundations. 
This part had therefore to be taken down and rebuilt, care 
being taken to dig first as far down as the gravel and fill up 
with puddled walling, — gravel or ballast mixed with lime. All 
the other portions of the boundary wall had to be similarly 
treated. The lodge also, which was to be executed by Messrs. 
Joliff e & Banks, as contractors, soon gave great trouble. The soil 
being here extremely soft and boggy, the builders had pro- 


ceeded by driving piles. On these tlie walls were raised a 
height of five feet all round, the boundary wall being built at 
the same time and regularly tied into each course at either end 
of the lodge. Just at this time^ however, the other portions of 
the work were drained of water by a steam pump, and the 
peat thus deprived of water, all the surface of the marsh sank 
some nine inches. The masonry between the piles intended to 
carry the lodge walls sank also, and the building rested only 
on the bare piles. These might have sufficed to support the 
lodge, but the boundary wall which was tied in it also sank, 
as we have seen, and the lodge was bound to go too. This 
was the contractors' story ; but on examination it was found 
that the piles had not been driven deep enough, and others of 
greater length and more numerous were substituted. Not- 
withstanding the pains thus taken, the lodge continued for 
years after it was built to be in an unsatisfactory state, and it 
had eventually to be in part taken down, when all the piles and 
planking were found to be entirely decayed. 

Towards the end of 1813 Mr. Hardwicke resigned his 
appointment, giving as his ostensible reason that the 
management of this extensive concern took up more time 
than he could spare from his regular business; but it was 
really because he was dissatisfied with the remuneration 
originally agreed upon, which was at the rate of 2^ per cent. 
on all sums that passed through his hands. Mr. Hardwicke 
wanted 5 per cent., as did another eminent architect to whom 
the supervisors applied as soon as the place became vacant. 
Eventually a Mr. Harvey fell in with the terms proposed : ''a 
person of less note in his profession, but who had been employed 
in some works on unsound ground, and was supposed to possess 
more experience on that subject that many architects of greater 
general knowledge.'' * Mr. Harvey's first proposition was to 
give greater security to the foundations by laying strong flat 
stones under all walls ; but later, three courses of brickwork, 
laid in Parker's cement, were used for this purpose, 
because stone was not easily procured. It was now the spring 
of 1814; a full year had elapsed since the commencement 
of the work, and already, although no part of the prison 
* Holford's General Penitentiary, p. 29. 


house was as yet begun, and the lodge and boundary walls were 
still unfinished, £26,000 had been disbursed in one way or 

While fully crediting the supervisors with every desire 
to do justice to the work in hand, it is impossible to read 
their minutes without observing that they proceeded in 
a liberal open-handed fashion, as gentlemen do who are 
dealing with money supplied from a liberal purse. They 
were evidently anxious to do their job well ; and the 
stout substantial building they erected is the best testimony, 
as it stands to this day, to the pains they took. But 
the article was dear; and long before it reached com- 
pletion the tax-payers grumbled not a little at its cost. In 
the earlier years, however, the Treasury issued money with a 
readiness that accords little with modern notions of economy. 
In May, 1814, replying to Mr. Lushington, the supervisors 
announced that they had spent £30,000, and would want 
£45,000 more before the next session of Parliament ; expressing 
a hope, however, that by the following spring the works would 
be sufl&ciently advanced to admit of the confinement of one 
hundred convicts in the prison. In the following November 
they notified that an additional £60,000 would be required 
during the ensuing years, when the total expenditure would 
include the building of the lodge, boundary wall, and 
two pentagons, with their corresponding parts of the hexagon. 
It is but just to state that the details of disbursements show 
that there was no great increase in the actual cost of building 
the lodge and outer walls over the original estimate. All the 
money went in the pentagons, which must have cost quite 
£50,000 apiece. However, in March, 1816, when the first was 
completed and nearly ready for occupation, the supervisors 
found they would have more room than was anticipated, and 
that with but little variation in the plans, the buildings when 
completed could be made to contain eight hundred prisoners. 
A fresh Act of Parliament was issued giving the necessary 
authority, but already it would appear as if the House 
of Commons was turning restive about the expenditure 
on Millbank. More than two years had elapsed since the 
commencement of the work, and so far the only apparent 


results were continual demands for money. Accordingly, 
we find that in May the House ordered that an account of all 
sums already spent, and of all that would hereafter be required, 
should be laid upon the table. By this statement it appears 
that £128,304 had been already spent, and that a further sum 
of £228,813 would still be required.* 

This total of £350,117 is indeed considerably in excess 
of the original estimate made by Mr. Hardwicke, which 
amounted to £259,420. But when people take to building 
the bill runs up often beyond all previous calculation. The 
supervisors were now paying the penalty for dabbling in 
bricks and mortar. No one who has waded through their 
lengthy minutes and the voluminous correspondence which 
record the history of their proceedings, can under-estimate 
their devotion or doubt their integrity. But their work, so to 
speak, ran away with them. It was as impossible to foresee 
all requirements as it was to forbid indispensable outlay. 
Bramah locks, patent foundations, iron bedsteads for the 
prisoners, heating apparatus and water closets on the newest 
and most approved patterns — all these were in turns experi- 
mented upon, and generally, if found suitable, ordered regard- 
less of expense. Moreover other works beyond the prison walls 
fell upon the supervisors. For instance, they had to contribute 
to the embankment, and to the road that was to lead to the 
New Vauxhall Bridge from the end of Millbank Eow. In this 
way the expenditure grew like a snowball, and, as we shall see, 
even this increased sum of £350,000 by no means sufficed to 
complete the whole affair. 

On the 9th February, 1816, however, the supervisors 
reportedf to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, that the 
Penitentiary was now partly ready for the reception of offenders, 
and begged that a committee might be appointed to take 
charge of the prison, under the provisions of the 52 Geo. III., 
cap. 44. By this Act the King in Council was empowered to 
appoint "any fit and discreet persons, not being less than 
ten or more than twenty, as and for a Committee to 
Superintend the Penitentiary House for the term of one 

* House of Commons' Journals, 23rd May, 1816. 
t Minute Book, 9th Feb., 1816. 



year, tlien nexb ensuing, and until a fresli nomination or 
appointment sliall take place." Accordingly, at tHe Court 
at Brighton, on the 21st Feb., 1816, His Royal Highness 
the Prince Eegent in Council iiominated the Eight Hon. 
Charles Abbot, Speaker of the House of Commons, and nine- 
teen others to serve on this committee, and it met for the first 
time at the prison on the 12 th March following. The pro- 
ceedings of the Committee of Management from the first 
meeting I reserve for another chapter, it being enough to 
record here the fact of its appointment. The Right Hon, 
Charles Long, George Holford, Esq., and the Rev. J. J. Becher, 
were among the members of the new committee, but they 
continued their functions as supervisors distinct from the other 
body, until the final completion of the whole building in 1821. 

On the 27th June, 1816, the first batch of convicts — 
thirty-six females from Newgate — arrived. Others followed, 
and it seemed probable that by the end of the year the two 
first pentagons would both be fully occupied. In September, 
however, alarming symptoms of failure and settlement appeared 
in the building. Serious cracks and fissures opened in the 
walls of Pentagon No. 1, and the safety of the whole edifice 
was for a moment in question. This occurrence is thus 
recorded in the Governor's Journal : — 

" September 21, 1816. — Arose at six o'clock in the morning 
in consequence of being informed that the passage gates of 
Pentagon No. 1, next the angle towers, were all fast and 
incapable of being unlocked by the turnkeys. Went there 
and found it was so, and that it was occasioned by all the 
three angle towers having sunk a little lower, which had 
cracked the arches and wall in several places. Gave immediate 
notice to the clerk of works, who came and inspected the 
places, and sent for Mr. Harvey the architect. 

" Went again into the pentagon and found all the prisoners 
of Mrs. Todd's division under considerable fear and alarm, and 
that Ann Turner had just recovered from a fit, which I under- 
stood she is subject to. Talked to the prisoners and assured 
them there was no danger, and succeeded in pacifying them 
and quieting all further apprehension." 

As soon as Mr. Harvey made his appearance he gave it as 


tis opinion that tlie fractures were caused by tlie admission of 
tlie tide from the Thames, which had been let in a day or two 
previous to cleanse the prison drains. This was checked, and 
the effect closely watched. In the three following weeks there 
was no perceptible increase in the cracks ; but for a time the 
reception of new prisoners was stopped, and advice sought of 
two eminent engineers and architects, Messrs. Rennie and 
Smirke. It is not now apparent whether these failures in the 
pentagons came on suddenly and without warning ; but there 
must have been every reason for apprehension from the first, 
for the shifty, uncertain character of the site had been proved 
by the necessity for taking down and rebuilding both lodge 
and boundary walls; and even as early as February, 1815, 
when the pentagon walls were as yet only a few feet high, 
cracks had appeared which could only be remedied by iron 
ties stretching quite across the building. The result of 
Messrs. Rennie and Smirke's examination of the site was to 
condemn the main sewer and the artificial foundations; the 
former had been negligently built, and the latter were too 
meagre to guarantee security. When the tide rose a large 
body of water made its way through imperfections in the 
sewer walls in among the loose strata below the buildings, and 
affected of course the superstructure. Besides this, the arti- 
ficial foundation walls had been built so narrow — unwise 
economy in this one instance getting thus the better of 
safety — that they afforded no sufficient support for the 
weight of building above. It appeared to be immediately 
necessary to take down three of the pentagon towers, 
and to set on foot works to secure the other foundations, 
both in the pentagons erected and those to come, by 
considerably increasing the brickwork footings to the main 
walls, and more effectually digging over and puddling the 
ground excavated to receive them. Taking into consider- 
ation, too, the importance of all these works, the supervisors 
resolved to appoint Mr. Robert Smirke to carry them into 

eSect 1314522 

From this time forth the works progressed steadily. 
Daring 1817 the second pentagon was occupied by prisoners 
notwithstanding the settlement of its walls. In 1818 no 

D 2 


further accommodation was rendered available, but a further 
statement of the expenditure incurred was in that year 
presented to the House of Commons. It now appeared that 
the total outlay had increased to £221,788 ; that a further 
sum of £64,000 would be required to complete the third 
and fourth pentagons, £4,600 to rebuild the shaky towers, 
and an additional £90,000 for the remaining two pentagons 
and other contingencies. The grand total for all executed 
and projected works was now represented at £380,288, a 
rise of £30,000 over the second estimate of 1816, and of 
£130,000 over the first of 1812. But it was now estimated 
by Mr. Smirke that the buildings when completed could 
hold 1000 prisoners instead of 800. Next year the two new 
pentagons, the third and fourth, were finished and filled, so 
that the total prison population amounted in December, 
1819, to 325. At the end of 1820 the numbers rose to 551, 
though no fresh pentagon was opened; but in 1821 the fifth 
and sixth were finished, and the prison was practically com- 
pleted. But other works lingered on for some time later. 
There were plumbers, painters, glaziers, paviors, locksmiths, 
and coppersmiths, busy inside till the middle of the following 
year ; the kitchen ranges had to be fixed, iron flues also, 
steam pipes, hot air stoves, and so forth. But on the 24th 
July, 1822, the supervisors closed their accounts, and the bill 
for the whole outlay was sent in to the Treasury. It amounted 
to £450,310, a further increase of £70,000 on the last 
estimate of 1819. It is to be regretted that the ofiicial 
records contain no allotment of the grand total to the various 
portions of the building. It would be interesting to observe 
how far the cost of each pentagon exceeded the estimate for it, 
but as all the bills and accounts are lumped together in the 
supervisors' minute book, it is impossible to separate the items. 
Undoubtedly the undertaking grew with its years, till at last 
the total cost seemed quite disproportioned to its first promise 
or intention. 

But Millbank Penitentiary was the first building of its 
kind, and those who erected it had to contend with many 
serious difficulties. Not the least of these was the insecure 
character of the site. As we have seen, from first to last the 


foundations were a source of constant anxiety and exacted the 
closest attention. They were continually being doctored, and 
to an extent suflEicient to justify the familiar saying, " that there 
is more stuff below than above ground at Millbank." But 
indeed every part of the prison, visible or invisible, is a mine of 
building wealth. Hidden amongst its hundreds of cells, its 
length of corridor and passage, beneath its acres of roof, are, 
without exaggeration, miles of lead piping, hundreds of tons of 
iron, immense iron girders, gates in dozens, — some of wrought 
iron, some of cast, — flagstones without end, shiploads of timber, 
millions of bricks. If ever the old place comes to be pulled 
down, the curious inquirer may perhaps understand why it was 
that it cost half a million of money. But it will be less easy to 
explain why such an enormous outlay was rendered necessary 
in the face of the fact that the new buildings which have in a 
measure replaced it have cost hardly a fifth of that sum. 



The Penitentiary Committee was appointed on the 12tb 
Tebruary, 1816, by the Prince Eegent in Council, but the- 
first instalment of prisoners did not arrive till the 27tli of 
July following. In the interval, however, there was plenty 
of work to be done. The preparation of rules and regulations, 
the appointment of a governor, chaplain, matron, and other 
ofl&cials, were among the first of them ; and the committee 
took up each subject with characteristic vigour. It was 
necessary also to decide upon some scale of salaries and 
emoluments ; * to arrange with the Treasury as to the receipts, 
custody, and payments of the public moneys ; and to ascertain 
the " sorts of manufactures best suited to the establishment, 
and the best method of obtaining work for the convicts, with- 
out having to purchase the materials." f 

On the 10th of March, Mr. John Shearman was appointed 
governor. This gentleman was strongly recommended by 
Lord Sidmouth, who stated in a letter to the Speaker that, 
having been induced to make particular inquiries respecting 
his qualifications and character, he had found them " well 
calculated for the office in question." Mr. Shearman^s own 
account of himself was, that he was a native of Yorkshire, but 
chiefly resident in London ; that he was aged forty-four, was 
married, had eight children, and that he had been brought up 
to the profession of a solicitor, but for the last four years had 
been second clerk in the Hatton Garden police office. Before- 
* See Appendix A. t Minute Book of Committee, p. 14. 


actually entering upon Ms duties, the committee sent Mr. 
Shearman on a tour of inspection through the provinces, to 
visit various gaols, and report on their condition and manage- 
ment. In this way he inspected the prisons at Dorchester, 
G-loucester, Shrewsbury, Chester, Manchester, Liverpool, 
Lancaster, Southwell, and Lincoln, and the result of his 
inquiries appeared to be : — 

" 1. That the system o£ Individual Separation was not carried into 
effect except at the Gloucester Penitentiary. 

2. That the habit of Industry tended much to the reformation of 


3. That the labour of prisoners, though to a certain extent profitable, 

was not suflB.cient to defray the cost of their victualling. 

4. That Solitary Confinement and the deprivation of food were 

found to be the usual and best punishment for prison offences. 

5. That prisoners ought not to be permitted to associate, or to be 

brought together in large numbers, without being ironed or 
effectually secured. 

6. That the agency of Females as to the government of Female 

Prisoners had not yet been tried." 

Mr. Shearman eventually resigned his appointment, be- 
cause he thought the pay insufficient, and because the com- 
mittee found fault with his frequent absences from the prison. 
He seems to have endeavoured to carry on a portion of his old 
business outside, as solicitor, concurrently with his governor- 
ship. His journals show him to have been an anxious, pains- 
taking man, but neither by constitution nor training was he 
exactly fitted for the position he was called upon to fill as head 
of the Penitentiary. 

At the same time, on the recommendation of the Bishop of 
London, the E-ev. Samuel Bennett was appointed chaplain. 
Touching this appointment the bishop wrote, " I have found a 
clergyman of very high character for great activity and 
beneficence, and said to be untainted with fanaticism. . . . 
His answer is not yet arrived; but I think he will not 
refuse, as he finds the income of his curacy inadequate to the 
maintenance of a family, and is precluded from residence on 
a small property by want of a house and the unhealthiness of 
the situation." 


Mr. Pratt was made house-surgeon, and a Mr. Webbe, 
son to a medical man, and bred himself to that profession, was 
appointed master manufacturer ; being of a '^ mechanical turn 
of mind, he had made several articles of workmanship, and he 
produced to the committee specimens of his shoemaking, 
paper screens, etc." 

There was more difficulty in finding a matron, " The com- 
mittee," writes Mr. Morton Pitt, " was fully impressed with 
the importance of the charge, and of the difficulty of finding a 
fit person to fill this most essential office." Many persons 
were of opinion that it would be " impracticable to procure 
any person of credit or character to undertake the duties of a 
situation so arduous and so unpleasant/' and the fact that no 
one had applied for it was " strong proof of the prevalence of 
such opinions." Mr. Pitt goes on : " The situation is a new one. 
I never knew but two instances of a matron in a prison, and 
those were the wives of turnkeys or porters. In the present 
case it is necessary that a person should be selected of respecta- 
bility as to situation in life. How difficult must it be to find 
a female educated as and having the feelings of a gentle- 
woman, who would undertake a duty so revolting to every 
feeling she has hitherto possessed, and even so alarming to a 
person of that sex." 

Mr. Pitt had, however, his eye on a person to suit. " Mrs. 
Chambers appears to me to possess the requisites we want; 
and I can speak of her from a continued knowledge of her for 
almost thirty years, since she was about fifteen. Her father 
was in the law, and clerk of the peace for the county oE Dorset 
from 1750 to 1790. He died insolvent, and she was compelled 
to support herself by her own industry, for her husband 
behaved very ill to her, abandoned her, and then died. She 
has learned how to obey, and since that, having kept a 
numerous school, how to command. She is a woman, forty- 
three years of age, of a strong sense of religion and the 
most strict integrity. She has much firmness of character 
with a compassionate heart, and I am firmly persuaded will 
most conscientiously perform every duty she undertakes to 
the utmost of her power and ability." * Accordingly, Mrs. 
Chambers was duly appointed. 

* Letter to Com., Min. B. i. 27. 


The same care was exhibited in all the selections for the 
minor posts of steward, turnkeys male and female, messengers, 
nurses, porters, and patrols ; and most precise rules * and 
regulations were drawn up for the governance of everybody 
and everything connected with the establishment. All these 
had, in the first instance, to be submitted for the approval of 
the Judges of the Court of King's Bench, and were subse- 
quently reported to the King in Council and both Houses of 

The supreme authority in the Penitentiary was vested in 
the superintending committee, who were required to make all 
contracts, examine accounts, pay bills, and make regular 
inspection of prison and prisoners. A special meeting of the 
committee was to be convened in the second week of each 
session of Parliament, in order to prepare the annual report. 
Under them the governor attended to the details of administra- 
tion. He was to have the "same powers as are incident to a 
sheriff or gaoler — to see every prisoner on his or her admittance; 
to handcuff or otherwise punish the turbulent; to attend 
chapel ; and finally, to have no other employment, other than 
such as belong to the duties of his office.^' The chaplain was 
to be in priest's orders, and approved by the bishop of the 
diocese, and to have no other profession, avocation, or duty 
whatsoever. Besides his regular Sunday and week-day 
services, he was to " endeavour by all means in his power to 
obtain an intimate knowledge of the particular disposition and 
character of every prisoner, male and female ; direct them to 
be assembled for the purposes of religious instruction in such 
manner as may be most conducive to their reformation." He 
was expected also to " allot a considerable portion of his time, 
after the hours of labour, to visit, admonishing and instructing 
the prisoners," and to keep a " Character-Book," containing a 
" full and distinct account from time to time of all particulars 
relating to the character, disposition, and progressive improve- 
ment of every prisoner." Intolerance was not encouraged, for 
even then the visitation of ministers other than those of 
the Established Church was permitted on special application 
by the prisoners. Such ministers were only required to give 

* Printed by Luke Hansard & Sons, near Lincoln's Inn Fields, 
20th July, 1816. 


in their names and descriptions, and " were admitted at such 
hours and in sucli manner as the Governor shall think reason- 
able, confining their ministrations to the persons requiring 
their attendance." * No remuneration was, however, to be 
granted to these additional clergymen. The duties prescribed 
for the house-surgeon were of the ordinary character, but in 
cases of dijBSculty he was to confer with the consulting 
physician and other non-resident medical men. The master 
manufacturer was to act as the governor's deputy if called 
upon, and was charged more especially with the control and 
manufacture of all materials and stores. It was his duty to 
make the necessary appraisement of the value of work done, 
and to enter the weekly " per-centage.'^ The total profit was 
thus divided : three-fourths to the establishment, or 15s, in the 
pound; one twenty-fourth to the master manufacturer, the 
task-master of the pentagon, and the turnkey of the ward ; 
leaving the balance of one-eighth, or 2s. 6d. in the pound, to be 
credited to the prisoner. 

For the rest of the officers the rules were what might 
be expected. The steward took charge of the victualling, 
clothing, etc., and superintended the cooking, baking, and all 
branches of the domestic economy of the establishment ; the 
task-masters overlooked the turnkeys, and were responsible for 
all matters connected with the labour and earnings of the 
prisoners; and the turnkeys, male and female, each having 
charge of a certain number of prisoners, were to observe 
their conduct, extraordinary diligence, or good behaviour. The 
turnkey was expected to '' enforce his orders with firmness, 
but shall be expected to act with the utmost humanity to all 
prisoners under his care. On the other hand, he shall not be 
familiar with any of the prisoners, or converse with them un- 
necessarily, but shall treat them as persons under his authority 
and control, and not as his companions or associates." The 
prisoners themselves were to be treated in accordance with the 
aims and principles of the establishment. On first arrival they 
were carefully examined by the doctor, cleansed, deprived 
of all money, and their old clothes burned or sold. Next, 
entering the first or probation class, they remained therein 
* Minute Book, p. 586. 


for half the whole period of their imprisonment. Their time 
in prison was thus parcelled out : at daybreak or 5.30, accord- 
ing to the time of the year, they rose ; cell doors opened, they 
were taken to wash, for which purpose " soap and round 
towels were provided ; " after that to the working cells till 
9 a.m., when they got their breakfast — one pint of hot gruel. 
At half-past nine to work again till half -past twelve ; then 
dinner — for four days of the week six ounces of coarse beef, 
the other three a quantity of thick soup, and always daily a 
pound of bread made of the whole meal. For dinner and 
exercise an hour was allowed, after which again to work, 
leaving off in summer at six, and in winter at sunset. They 
were then again locked up in their cells, having first, when 
the evenings were light, an hour^s exercise, and last of all 
supper — another pint of gruel, hot. 

The turnkeys were to be assisted by wardsmen and wards- 
women, selected from the more decent and orderly prisoners. 
These attended chiefly to the cleanliness of the prison, and 
were granted a special pecuniary allowance. " Second Class '^ 
prisoners were appointed also, to act as trade instructors. 
Any prisoners might work extra hours on obtaining special 
permission. The general demeanour of the whole body of 
inmates was regulated by the following rule : '^ No prisoner 
shall disobey the orders of the governor or any other officer, 
or shall treat any of the officers or servants of the prison with 
disrespect ; or shall be idle or negligent in his work, or shall 
wilfully mismanage the same ; or absent himself without leave 
from Divine Service, or behave irreverently thereat; or shall 
be guilty of cursing or swearing, or of any indecent expression 
or conduct, or of any assault, quarrel, or abusive words ; or 
shall game with, defraud, or claim garnish, or any other 
gratuity from a fellow-prisoner; or shall cause any disturb- 
ance or annoyance by making a loud noise, or otherwise ; or 
shall endeavour to converse or hold intercourse with prisoners 
of another division ; or shall disfigure the walls by writing on 
them, or otherwise ; or shall deface, secrete, or destroy, or pull 
down the printed abstracts of rules ; or shall wilfully injure 
any bedding or other article provided for the use of prisoners." 
Offences such as the foregoing were to be met by punishment,^ 


at the discretion of the governor, either by being confined in 
a dark cell, or by being fed on bi'ead and water only, or by 
both such punishments ; more serious crimes being referred to 
the committee, who had power to inflict one month's bread 
and water diet and in a dark cell. Any extraordinary diligence 
or merit, on the other hand, was to be brought to the notice of 
the Secretary of State, in order that the prisoner might be 
recommended as an object for the Royal mercy. When finally 
discharged, the prisoners were to receive decent clothing, and 
a sum of money at the discretion of the committee, in addition 
to their accumulated per-centage, or tools, provided such 
money or such tools did not exceed a value of £3. More- 
over, if any discharged prisoner, at the end of twelve months, 
could prove on the testimony of a substantial householder, 
or other respectable person, that he was earning an honest 
livelihood he was to be entitled to a further gratuity not 
exceeding £3. 

The early discipline of the prisoners in Millbank, as de- 
signed by the committee, was based on the principle of constant 
inspection and regular employment. Solitary imprisonment 
was not insisted upon, close confinement in a punishment cell 
being reserved for misconduct. All prisoners on arrival were 
located at the lodge, and kept apart, without work, for the 
first five days; the object in view being to "awaken them to 
reflection, and a due sense of their situation." During this 
time the governor visited each prisoner in the cell for the 
purpose of becoming acquainted with his character, and ex- 
plaining to him the spirit in which the establishment had been 
erected. No pains were spared in this respect. The governor's 
character-books, which I have examined, are full of the most 
minute, I might add trivial, details. After the usual prelimi- 
naries of bathing, hair-cutting, and so forth, the prisoners 
passed on to one of the pentagons and entered the first class, 
remaining therein for half their total sentences. The only 
difference between first and second class was, that the former 
worked alone, each in his own cell ; the latter in company, in 
the work rooms. The question of finding suitable employment 
soon engaged the attention of the committee. At first the 
males tried tailoring, the females needlework. Great efforts 


■were made to introduce various trades. Many species of in- 
dustry were attempted, skilled prisoners teaching the unskilled. 
Thus, at first, one man who could make glass beads worked at 
his own trade, and had a class under him ; another, a tinman, 
turned out tin-ware, in which he was assisted by his brother, a 
" free man " and a more experienced workman ; and several 
cells were filled with prisoners who manufactured rugs under 
the guidance of a skilful prison artizan. But Mr. Holford, 
one of the committee, in a paper laid before his colleagues, in 
1822, was forced to confess that all these undertakings had 
failed. The glass-bead blower misconducted himself; the 
" free " tinman abused the confidence of the committee, pro- 
bably by " trafficking,^' and the rug-maker was soon pardoned 
and set at large. By 1822 almost all manufactures, including 
flax-breaking, had been abandoned, and the prisoners' opera- 
tions were confined to shoemaking, tailoring, and weaving. 
Mr. Holford, in the same pamphlet, objects to the first of these 
trades, complaining that shoemakers' knives were weapons too 
dangerous to be trusted in the hands of prisoners. Tailoring 
was hard to accomplish, from the scarcity of good cutters, and 
weaving alone remained as a suitable prison employment. In 
fact, thus early in the century, the committee were brought 
face to face with a difficulty that even now, after years of 
experience, is pressing still for solution. 

I have now described at some length the system pursued 
at the Penitentiary. Beyond doubt — and of this there is 
abundant proof in the prison records — the committee sought 
strenuously to give effect to the principles on which the estab- 
lishment was founded. Nevertheless their proceedings were 
more or less tentative, for as yet little was known of so-called 
''systems" of prison discipline, and those who had taken 
Millbank under their charge were compelled to feel their way 
slowly and with caution, as men still in the dai'k. The Peni- 
tentiary was essentially an experiment — a sort of crucible into 
which the criminal elements were thrown, in the hopes that they 
might be changed or resolved by treatment into other superior 
forms. The members of the committee were always in earnest, 
and they spared themselves no pains. If they had a fault, 
it was in over-tenderness towards the felons committed 


to their cliarge. Millbank was a Iiuge playtHng ; a toy for a 
parcel of pMlantliropic gentlemen, to keep them busy during 
their spare hours. It was easy to see that they loved to run 
in and out of the place, and to show it off to their friends ; * 
thus we find the visitor, Sir Archibald Macdonald, bringing a 
party of ladies to visit the pentagon, when " the prisoners read 
and went through their religious exercises," which edifying 
spectacle " gave great satisfaction to the persons present/^f 
Again, at Christmas time the prisoners were regaled with 
roast beef and plum pudding, after which they returned 
thanks to the Rev, Archdeacon Potts, the visitor (who was 
present, with a select circle of ladies and gentlemen), " appear- 
ing very grateful, and sang ' God save the King/ " % With 
such sentiments uppermost in the minds of the superintending 
committee, it is not strange that the gaoler and other officials 
should be equally kind and considerate. No punishment of a 
serious nature was ever inflicted without a report to the 
visitor, or his presence on the spot. The whole of the female 
prisoners, who were first received, were found to be liable to 
fits, and the tendency gave Mr. Shearman great concern, till 
it was found that by threatening to shave and blister the 
heads of all persons so afflicted immediate cure followed. Two 
Jewesses, having religious scruples, refused to eat the meat 
supplied, whereupon the husband of one of them was permitted 
to bring in for their use " coarse meat and fish, according to 
the custom of the Jews:" and later we find the same man 

* The following list of visitors who came to Millbank sight-seeing 
within a month or two of its opening, will give some idea of the public 
interest taken in the place. I have selected these from others in the 
governor's Journal : 

The Grand Duke I^icholas of Russia ; H.E.H. the Duke and the 
Duchess of Tork; Lady Louisa Connolly; the Saxon minister; Dr. Jenner 
and the Archbishop of Tork ; the Earl of Fitzwilliam and Lord Olive ; 
Sultan Hatimgary Krimgary ; the Bishop of Bangor ; Lord Gambier, 
Lord Prudhoe, the Dean of Westminster, and Lord Templetown ; 
Mr. Shaw Lefevre, Miss Yansittart, and about eighteen other ladies ; 
the Duke of Bedford amd the Marquis of Tavistock ; H.R.H. the Duke 
and Duchess of Kent, the Grand Duke Michael, Colonel D'Oyley, Lady 
Teignmouth, the Hon. Captain Waldegrave, etc., etc. 

t Governor's Journal, i. p. 122. % I^id. p. 116. 


came regularly to read the Jewish, prayers, " as he stated, out 
of the Hebrew book/' Many of the women refused positively 
to have their hair cut short, and for a time were humoured. 
In February, 1817, all the female prisoners were assembled, 
and went through a public examination, before the Bishops of 
London and Salisbury, to show their progress in religious 
instruction, and "acquitted themselves greatly to the satis- 
faction of all present/^ 

Judith Lacy, having been accused of stealing tea from a 
matron's canister, which had been put down, imprudently, too 
near the prisoner, was " so hurt at the charge, that it threw 
her into fits/' She soon recovered, and it was quite evident 
she had stolen the tea. Any complaint of food was listened to 
with immediate attention. Thus the gruel did not give 
satisfaction and was repeatedly, examined. 

" A large number of the female prisoners still refuse to eat 
their barley soup," says the governor in his Journal* on the 
23rd April, 1817, "several female prisoners demanding an 
increase of half a pound of bread," being refractory. Next 
day some of them refused to begin work, saying they were 

Mary Turner was the first prisoner released. She was 
supposed to be cured. Having equipped her in her liberty 
clothing, " she was taken into the several airing grounds 
in which were her late fellow-prisoners. The visitor (Sir 
Archibald Macdonald) represented to them in a most impressive 
manner the benefits that would result to themselves by good 
l)ehaviour. The whole were most sensibly affected, and I 
think the event will have a very powerful effect on the conduct 
of many and prove an incentive to observe good and orderly 

Next day the whole of the female prisoners were at their 
cell windows, and shouted vociferously as Mary Turner went 
off. This is but one specimen of the free and easy system of 
management. Of the same character was a petition presented 
by a number of the female prisoners, to restore to favour two 
other convicts who had been punished by the committee. 
Indeed, the whole place appears to have been like a big school, 
* Page 198. f Governor's Journal, Sept. 2, 1817. 


and a degree of license was allowed to the prisoners consorting 
little with their character of convicted criminals. 

This mistaken lenity could end but in one way. Early 
in the spring the whole of the inmates broke out in open 
mutiny. Their alleged grievance was the issue of an inferior 
kind of bread. Change of dietary scales in prisons is always 
attended with some risk of disturbance, even when discipline 
is most rigorously maintained. In those early days of mild 
government riot was of course inevitable. The committee 
having thought fit to alter the character of the flour supplied, 
soon afterwards, at breakfast-time, all the prisoners, male and 
female, refused to receive their bread. The women complained 
of its coarseness ; and all alike, in spite of the exhortations of 
the visitor, Air. Holford, left it outside their cell doors. 
Next day, Sunday, the bread was at first taken, then thrown 
out into the passages. The governor determined to have 
Divine Service as usual, but to provide against what might 
happen, deposited within his pew " three brace of pistols 
loaded with ball.''^* To make matters worse, the Chancellor of 
the Exchequer arrived with a party of friends to attend the 
service. The governor immediately pointed out that he was 
apprehensive that ^'in consequence of the newly adopted 
bread the prisoners' conduct would not be orderly, as it had 
ordinarily been.^' At first the male prisoners were satisfied 
by raising and letting fall the flaps of the kneeling benches 
with a loud report, and throwing loaves about in the body of 
the chapel, while the women in an audible tone cried out, 
" Give us our daily bread." Soon after the commencement of 
the communion service, the women seated in the gallery became 
more loudly clamorous, calling out most vociferously, "Bettei.' 
bread, better bread ! " The men below, in the body of the 
church, now rose and stood upon the benches ; but again 
seated themselves on a gesture from the governor, who 
then addressed them, begging them to keep quiet. Among 
the females the confusion and tumult was continued, and 
was increased by the screams of alarm from the more 
peaceable. Many fainted, and others in great terror en- 
treated to be taken away. " These were suffered to go out 
* Journal, April 19, 1818. 


in small bodies, in charge of tlie officers, and so we con- 
tinued to remove them, till the whole of the females were 
withdrawn. About six of them, as they came to the place 
where they could see the males, made a halt and most 
boisterously assailed the men, calling them cowards, and other 
opprobrious names/-* After the women had gone the service 
proceeded without further interruption, after which the 
Chancellor of the Exchequer (who was present throughout) 
addressed the males, giving them a most appropriate admoni- 
tion, but praising their orderly demeanour, which he promised 
to report to the Secretary of State. Afternoon service was 
performed without the female congregation, and was uninter- 
rupted except by a few hisses from the boys. 

Next morning the governor informed the whole of the 
prisoners, one by one, that the new brown bread would have 
to be continued until the meeting of the committee ; where- 
upon many resisted when their cell doors were being shut, and 
others hammered loudly on the woodwork with their three- 
legged stools ; and this was accompanied by the most hideous 
shouts and yells. In one of the divisions, four prisoners, who 
were in the same cell, were especially refractory, " entirely 
demolishing the inner door, every article of furniture, the two 
windows and their iron frames; and, having knocked off 
large fragments from the stone of the doorway, threw the 
pieces at, and smashed to atoms the passage windows opposite." 
One of them, Greenslade, assaulted the governor, on enteriag 
the cell, with part of the door frame ; but " I parried the 
blow, and drove the prisoner's head against the wall ; and I 
was also compelled, in my defence, to knock down Michael 
Sheen.''* Such havoc and destruction were accomplished by 
the prisoners, that the governor repaired to the Home 
Secretary's for assistance. By him directed to Bow Street, 
he brought back a number of runners, and posted them in 
various parts of the building, during which a huge stone was 
hurled at his head by a prisoner named Jarman, but without 
evil consequences. A fresh din broke out on the ringing of 
the bell on the following morning, and neither governor nor 
chaplain could permanently allay the tumult; the governor 
* Governor's Journal, April 20, 1818. 


determined thereupon to handcuff all the turbulent males 
immediately. " The effect was instantaneous. Although there 
were still mumblings and grumblingSj I felt that the storm 
would soon be over. ... In the course of the day I had 
placed all the refractory in irons, and all was quiet in the male 
pentagon." But many still muttered_, and all was yet far from 
over. There was little doubt at the time that a general rising 
of the men was contemplated, and the governor felt it neces- 
sary to use redoubled efforts to make all secure, calling in 
further assistance from Bow Street. The night passed, how- 
ever, without any outbreak, and nest morning all the prisoners 
were pretty quiet and orderly. Later in the day the com- 
mittee met and sentenced the ringleaders to various punish- 
ments, chiefly reduction in class, and by this time the whole 
were humble and submissive. Finally five, who had been 
conspicuous for good conduct, were pardoned. 

It is satisfactory to find that the committee firmly resisted 
all efforts to make them withdraw the objectionable bread, and 
acted on the whole with spirit and determination. How far 
the governor was to blame cannot clearly be made out, but the 
confidence of the committee was evidently shaken, and a 
month or two later he was called upon to resign. He refused ; 
whereupon the committee informed him that they gave him 
'' full credit for his capacity and talents in his former line of 
life, but did not deem he had the talent, temper, or turn 
of mind necessary for the beneficial execution of the office of 
governor of the institution." There was not the slightest 
imputation on his moral character, the committee assured him ; 
but they could not retain him. He would not resign, and they 
were consequently compelled to remove him from his office. 

There can be no doubt but that Millbank in these early 
days was overmuch governed. The committee took every- 
thing into their own hands, and allowed but little latitude to 
their responsible officers. The first governor complains * 
that the visitors (members of the committee) "went to the 
Penitentiary, and gave orders and directions for things to be 
done by inferior officers, which I thought ought to come 
through me. . . . Prisoners were occasionally removed 
* Parliamentary Select Committee on Millbank, July, 1823. 


from one ward to another, and I knew notliing of it — no 
communication was made to me ; and if the inferior oJB&cers 
had a request to make, they got too much into the habit of 
reserving it to speak to the visitors ; so that I conceived I was 
almost a nonentity in the situation." The prisoners, even, 
were in the habit of saying they would wait till the visitor 
came, and. would ask him for what they wanted, ignoring the 
governor altogether. Indeed it appears from the official 
journals that the visitors were constantly at the prison. One 
(Mr. Holford) admits that '^for a considerable time he did every- 
thing but sleep there." But their excuse was that they were 
not fortunate in their choice of some of their first officers; 
and knew therefore they "must watch vigilantly over their 
conduct, to keep those who answered expectations, and to part 
with those who appeared unfit for their situations.^' Besides 
which it was necessary to see from time to time how the rules 
first framed worked in practice, and what customs that grew 
up should be prohibited, and what sanctioned, by the com- 
mittee, and adopted into the rules. 

It must be confessed that the committee do not appear to 
have been well served by all their subordinates. The 
governors were changed frequently ; the first '' expected to 
find his place better in point of emolument, and did not 
calculate upon the degree of activity to be expected in the 
person at the head of such an establishment ; the second was 
not thought by the committee to have those habits of mind — 
particularly those habits of conciliation — which are required 
in a person at the head of such an establishment; '^ the 
third was seized with an affection of the brain, and was never 
afterwards capable of exercising sufficient activity. The first 
master manufacturer, who as will be remembered was ap- 
pointed because he was of a mechanical turn of mind, was 
removed because he was a very young man, and his conduct 
was not thought steady enough for the post he occupied. 
The first steward was charged with embezzlement, but was 
actually dismissed for borrowing money from some of the 
tradesmen of the establishment. The first matron was also 
sent away within the first twelve months, but she appears to 
have been rather hardly used, though her removal also proves 


the existence of grave irregularities in the establishment. 
The case against Mrs. Chambers was that she employed 
certain of the female prisoners for her own private advantage. 
Her daughter was about to be married ; and to assist in 
making up bed furniture a portion of thread belonging to the 
establishment was used by the prisoners, who gave also their 
time. The thread was worth a couple of shillings, and was 
replaced by Mrs. Chambers. A second charge against the 
matron was for stealing a Penitentiary Bible. Her excuse 
was that a number had been distributed among the officers — 
a present, as she thought, from the committee — and she had 
passed hers on to her daughter. But for these offences, when 
substantiated, she was dismissed from her employment. 

Entries made in the Visitors' Journal, however, are fair 
evidence that matters were allowed by the oflficials to manage 
themselves in rather a "happy-go-lucky'-' fashion. One day 
new prisoners were expected from Newgate ; but nothing was 
ready for them. " Not a table or a stool in any working cell ; 
and one of those cells where the prisoners were to be placed, 
in which the workmen had some time since kept coals, was in 
the dirty state in which it had been left by them. Not a 
single bed had been aired.'' The steward did not know these 
prisoners were expected, and had ordered no rations for them. 
But he stated "he has enough, all but about two pounds." 
Upon which the visitor remarks, "If sixteen male prisoners 
can be supplied without notice, within two pounds, the 
quantity of meat sent in cannot be very accurate." Again, 
the visitor finds the doors from the prison into the hexagon 
(where the superior officers lived) " not double-locked as they 
ought to be. . . . Two prisoners together in the kitchen 
without a turnkey." " The daily allowance of food issued to 
the prisoners not the right weight." " 29th. — Came at ten. 
There are in the bathing-room at the lodge several bundles- 
of clothes belonging to male prisoners who have come in 
between the 1st and 21st of this month ; they are exactly 
in the state in which they were when the subject was 
mentioned to the committee last week; some of them are 
thrown into a dirty part of the room — whether intended to 
be burned I do not know; the porter thinks they are not^ 


I do not believe any of tlie female prisoners' things liave been 
yet sold. I understand from the governor he has not yet 
made any entry in the Character-book concerning the behaviour 
of any male prisoner since he came into the prison, or relative 
to any occurrence connected with such prisoner/' All this 
"will fairly account for any extra fussiness on the part of the 
committee. Doubtful of the zeal and energy of those to 
whom they confided the details of management, they were 
continually stepping in to make up for any shortcomings by 
their own activity. Bat the direct consequence of this 
interference was to shake the authority of the ostensible 
heads. Moreover, to make the more sure that nothing should 
be neglected, and no irregularity overlooked, the committee 
encouraged, or at least their most prominent member did, 
all sorts of talebearing, and a system of espionage that must 
have been destructive of all good feeling among the inmates 
of the prison. Mr. Pitt, when examined by the Select 
Committee, said, " Mr. Holford has mentioned to me : 'I hear 
so and so; such and such an abuse appears to be going 
forward ; but I shall get some further information/ I always 
turned a deaf ear to these observations, thinking it an 
erroneous system, and that it was not likely to contribute to 
the good of the establishment." He thought Mr. Holford's 
being so ready "to lend a willing ear to such communica- 
tions operated as an encouragement to talebearing -, the con- 
sequences of which certainly have appeared to me to have 
been disputes, cabals, or intrigues. '^ * Mr. Shearman, the 
governor, remarks on the same subject : " I certainly did think 
there was a very painful system going on in the prison against 
oJB&cers ... by what I might term ' spyism.' I have no 
doubt it all arose from the purest motives, thinking it was 
the best way to conduct the establishment, setting up one 
person to look after another.'^ The master manufacturer 
and the steward in this way took the opportunity of vilifying 
the governor ; and there is no doubt the matron, Mrs. Cham- 
bers, fell a victim to this practice. She was the victim of 
insinuation, and to the evil reports of busybodies who personally 
disliked her. 
* Parliamentary Select Committee on Millbauk, July, 1823, p. 165. 


It is easy to imagine the condition of Millbank tlien. A 
small colony apart from the great world; living more than 
as neighbours, as one family almost — but not happily — under 
the same roof. The officials, nearly all of them of mature 
age, having grown up children, young ladies and young gentle- 
men, always about the place, and that place from its peculiar 
conditions, like a ship at sea, shut off from the public, and 
concentrated on what was going on within its walls. Gossip, 
of course, prevalent — probably worse -, constant observation o£ 
one another, jealousies, quarrels, inevitable when authority 
was divided between three people, the governor, chaplain, and 
matron, and it was not clearly made out which was the most 
worthy ; subordinates ever on the look out to make capital of 
the differences of their betters, and alive to the fact that they 
were certain of a hearing when they chose to carry any slan- 
derous tale, or make any underhand complaint. For there, 
outside the prison, was the active and all-powerful committee,, 
ever ready to listen, and anxious to get information. One of 
the witnesses before the committee of 1823 stated: "From 
the earliest period certainly the active members of the Super- 
intending Committee gave great encouragement to receive 
any information from the subordinate officers, I believe with 
the view of putting the prison in its best possible state ; that 
encouragement was caught with avidity by a great many^ 
simply for the purpose of cultivating the good opinion of 
those gentlemen conducting it ; and I am induced to think 
that in many instances their zeal overstepped, perhaps, the 
strict line of truth; for I must say that during the whole 
period I was there, there was a continual complaint, one officer 
against another, and a system that was quite unpleasant in an 
establishment of that nature." 

Of a truth, the life inside the Penitentiary must have been, 
rather irksome to more people than those confined there against 
their will. 




The internal organisation of Millbank, which has been 
detailed in the last chapter, is described at some length in a 
Blue Book, bearing date July, 1823. But though Millbank 
was then, so to speak, on its trial, and its value, in return for 
the enormous cost of its erection, closely questioned, it is 
probable that its management would not have demanded a 
Parliamentary inquiry but for one serious mishap which 
brought matters to a crisis. Of a sudden the whole of 
the inmates of the prison began to pine and fall away. A 
virulent disorder broke out, and threatened the lives of all 
in the place. Alarm and misgiving in such a case soon 
spread ; and all at once the public began to fear that Millbank 
was altogether a huge mistake. Here was a building upon 
which half a million had been spent, and now, when barely 


completed, it proved uniiilial)itable ! Money cast wholesale 
into a deadly swamp, and all the fine talk of reformation and 
punishment to give way to coroners^ inquests and deaths by 
a strange disease. No wonder there was a cry for investiga- 
tion. Then, as on many subsequent occasions, it became 
evident Millbank was fulfilling one of the conditions laid 
down as of primary importance in the choice of site. Howard 
had said that the Penitentiary House must be built near the 
metropolis, so as to insure constant supervision and inspection. 
Millbank is ten minutes' walk from Westminster, and from 
the first has been the subject of continual inquiry and 
legislation. The tons of Blue Books and dozens of Acts of 
Parliament which it has called into existence will be sufficient 
proof of this. It was, however, a public undertaking, carried 
out in the full blaze of daylight, and hence it attracted more 
than ordinary attention. What might have passed unnoticed 
in a far-off shii^e, was in London magnified to proportions 
almost absurd. This must explain State interference, which 
nowadays may seem quite unnecessary, and will account for 
the giving a national importance to matters oftentimes in 
themselves really trivial. 

But this first sickness in the Penitentiary was sufiiciently 
serious to arrest attention. The story of it is as follows. 

In the autumn of 1822 (state the physicians appointed to 
report on the subject)* the general health of the prisoners 
in Millbank began visibly to decline. They became pale and 
languid, thin and feeble ; those employed in tasks calling for 
bodily exertion could not execute the same amount of work as 
before, those at the mill ground less corn, those at the pump 
brought up less water, the laundry-women often fainted at their 
work, and the regular routine of the place was only accom- 
plished by constantly changing the hands engaged. Through- 
out the winter this was the general condition of the prisoners. 
The breaking down of health was shown by such symptoms as 
lassitude, dejection of spirits, paleness of countenance, rejec- 
tion of food, and occasional faintings. Yet, with all this 
depression of general health, there were no manifest signs of 
specific disease ; the numbers in hospital were not in excess 

* Keport of Drs. Eoget and Latham. 


of previous winters, and tlieir maladies were sucli as were 
commonly incident to cold weather. But in January, 1823, 
scurvy — unmistakable sea-scurvy — made its appearance, and 
was then recognised as such and in its true form for the first 
time by the medical superintendent, though the prisoners 
themselves declared it was visible among them as early as the 
previous November. Being anxious to prevent alarm, either 
in the Penitentiary itself or in the neighbourhood, the medical 
oflficer rather suppressed the fact of the existence of the 
disease ; and this, with a certain tendency to make light of 
it, led to the omission of mauy precautions. But there it 
was, plainly evident ; first, by the usual sponginess of the 
gums, then by '^ ecchymosed" blotches on the legs, which 
were observed in March to be pretty general among the 

Upon this point, the physicians called in remark, that the 
scurvy spots " are at their first appearance peculiarly apt to 
escape discovery, unless the attention be particularly directed 
towards them, and that they often exist for a long time entirely 
unnoticed by the patient himself." And now with the scurvy 
came dysentery and diarrhoea, of the peculiar kind that is 
usually associated with the scorbutic disease. In all cases, the 
same constitutional derangement was observable, the outward 
marks of which were a sallow countenance and impaired 
digestion, diminished muscular strength, a feeble circulation, 
various degrees of nervous affections, such as tremors, cramps, 
or spasms, and various degrees of mental despondency. 

With regard to the extent of the disease, it was found 
that quite half of the total number were affected, the women 
more extensively than the men ; and both the males and 
females of the second class, and those who had been longest 
in confinement, were more frequently attacked than the newest 
arrivals. Some few were, however, entirely exempt ; more 
especially the prisoners employed in the kitchen, while among 
the officers and their families, amounting in all to one hundred 
and six individuals, there was not a single instance of attack 

Such then was the condition of the prisoners in the 
Penitentiary in the spring of 1823, To what was this sud- 


den outbreak of a virulent disorder to be traced ? There 
were those who laid the whole blame on the locality, and 
wlio would admit of no other explanation. But this argu- 
ment was in the first instance opposed by Drs. Latham and 
Eoget. Had the situation of the prison been at fault, they 
said, it was only reasonable to suppose tliat the disease 
would have shown itself in earher years of the prison's 
existence; whereas, as far as they could ascertain, till 1822-3 
it was altogether unknown. Moreover, had this been the real 
cause, all inmates would alike have suffered ; how then explain 
the universal immunity of the officers in charge ? Again, if 
it were the miasmata arising upon a marshy neighbourhood 
that militated against the healthiness of the prison, there 
should be prevalent other diseases which marsh, miasmata 
confessedly engender. Besides which, the scurvy and diarrhoea 
thus produced are associated with intermittent fevers, in this 
case not noticeable ; and they would have occurred during the 
bot instead of the winter season. Lastly, if it were imagined 
that the dampness of the situation had contributed to the 
disease, a ready answer was, that on examination every part of 
the prison was found to be singularly dry, not the smallest 
stain of moisture being apparent in any cell or passage, floor, 
ceiling, or wall. But indeed it was not necessary to search far 
afield for the causes of the outbreak ; they lay close at hand. 
Undoubtedly a sudden and somewhat ill-judged reduction in 
diet was entirely to blame. Tor a long time the luxury of the 
Penitentiary had been a standing joke.* The prison was 
commonly called Mr. Holford's fattening house. He was told 
that much money might be saved the public by parting witb 
half his officers, for there need be no fear of escapes ; all that 
was needed was a proper guard to prevent too great a rush of 
people in. An honourable member published a pamphlet in 
which he styled the dietary at Millbank " an insult to honest 
industry and a violation of common sense.-" And evidence 
was not wanting from the prison itself of the partial truth of 
these allegations. The medical superintendent frequently 
reported that the prisoners, especially the females, suffered 
from plethora, and from diseases consequent upon a fulness of 
* Pari. Eep., p. 114, 1823. 


Labit. Great quantities of food were carried out of tlie prison 
in the wasli-tubs ; potatoes, for instance, were taken to tlie pigs, 
which Mr. Holford admitted he would have been ashamed to 
have thus seen carried out of his own house. It came to such 
a pass at last that the committee was plainly told by members 
of the House of Commons, that if the dietary were not changed^ 
the next annual vote for the establishment would probably be 
opposed. In the face of all this clamour the committee could 
not hold out ; but in their anxiety to provide a remedy, they 
went from one extreme to the other. Abandoning the scale 
that was too plentiful, they substituted one that was altogether 
too meagre. In the new dietary solid animal food was quite 
excluded, and only soup was given. This soup was made o£ 
ox heads, in the proportion of one to every hundred prisoners ; 
it was to be thickened with vegetables or peas, and the daily 
allowance was to be a quai't, half at midday, and half in the 
evening. The bread ration was a pound and a half, and for 
breakfast there was also a pint of gruel. It was open to the 
committee to substitute potatoes for bread if they saw fit, but 
they do not seem to have done this. The meat upon an ox 
head averages about eight pounds, so that the allowance per 
prisoner was about an ounce and a quarter. No wonder then 
that they soon fell away in health. 

The mere reduction in the amount of food, however, would 
not have been sufiicient in itself to cause the epidemic of 
scurvy. Scurvy will occur even with a copious dietary. 
Sailors who eat plenty of biscuit and beef are attacked, and 
others who are cei'tainly not starved. The real predisposing 
cause is the absence of certain necessary elements in the diet, 
not the lowness of the diet itself. It is the want of vegetable 
acids in food that brings about the mischief. The authorities 
called in were not exactly right, therefore, in attributing the 
scurvy solely to the reduced diet. The siege of Gibraltar was 
quoted as an instance where semi-starvation superinduced the 
disease. Again Mr. White traced the scurvy prevalent in the 
low districts round Westminster to a similar deficiency and the 
severe winter, adding, however, the want of vegetable diet also. 
This last was the real explanation ; of this, according to our 
medical knowledge, there is not now the faintest doubt. Long' 


enforced abstinence from fresli meat and fresh vegetables is 
certain sooner or later to produce scurvy. At tlie same time 
it must be admitted that the epidemic of which I am writing was 
aggravated by the cold weather. It had its origin in the cold 
season, and its progress and increase kept pace with it. Those 
who suffered most were those who occupied uninterruptedly 
the coldest cells. Others, as I have said, who slept in the 
same parts, but were employed during the day in the kitchen, 
generally escaped attack. 

I have been quoting so far from the report of two eminent 
physicians, Drs. Latham and Roget, who were called in by the 
committee at an early stage of the outbreak. The chief 
adviser of the committee had so far been Dr. Hutchinson, the 
medical superintendent ; but he seems to have quite forfeited 
the confidence of the committee, rather by his impracticable 
attitude than by actual shortcomings in his professional duties. 
In April he was removed from his situation, and the task of 
grappling with the disorder fell upon the gentlemen above 
mentioned. Their plan of action from the first was just what 
might have been expected. A ration of fresh meat, four 
ounces in weight, was at once substituted for the peas or 
barley soup, with eight ounces of rice daily, white bread 
instead of brown, and, as the cheapest and best anti-scorbutic, 
three oranges were given to each prisoner every day, or one 
at each meal. Under this treatment the disease gradually 
declined, the prisoners gained strength daily, were more 
cheerful, and did more work. 

The scorbutic marks had in all cases begun to disappear 
by the end of March, and together with them went the 
diarrhoea and dysentery, which throughout had been the most 
formidable part of the disease. The report from which I quote 
is dated the 5th of April, 1823, and after recommending strongly 
a new dietary nearer the original scale than that which caused 
all this mischief, it winds up with expressing " a firm conviction 
that there is now no obstacle to the entire re-establishment of 
the healthy state of the Penitentiary." 

Unhappily this conclusion proved distinctly premature. 
The report above quoted had hardly been made public before 
disease reappeared in another form. By the middle of May 


it was general througliout tlie prison ; before June was ended 
all were equally affected — those wlio liad before suffered, tbose 
before exempt, and even new arrivals, admitted to the 
Penitentiary since the first outbreak. 

Now, too, the remedies that had once proved successful, 
exercised no appreciable effect upon the disease : this it 
must be understood was no longer scurvy — the scorbutic 
spots and blotches never again showed themselves ; the 
complaint was exclusively a species of " flux." " The disease 
was neither a diarrhoea nor a dysentery simply — nor did it 
belong exclusively to the bowels ; but it belonged to the 
whole system, and was very extraordinary and (as I believe) * 
peculiar in its nature. There was every degree of flux that 
was ever seen or described. There were cases which cor- 
responded with the description of the Indian cholera. The 
patients were seized with intolerable cramps at the pit of 
the stomach ; . . . the pulse became feeble and frequent ; 
they were pale and chilly ; and a sudden anguish pervaded 
the whole frame. Again, there were cases which corresponded 
with the common autumnal cholera of this country. . . . More- 
over, there was every kind and degree of dysentery. . . . Again, 
there were cases which differed very little from the diarrhoea 
of common casual occurrence, except that they were quite 
intractable by common remedies. . . . Lastly, there were 
cases which had no resemblance whatever either to cholera, 
or dysentery, or diarrhoea, or to any disorder that has obtained 
a name.^' A strange anomaly was that those attacked with 
the most serious foi-ms of illness were not necessarily those 
who succumbed. Prisoners suffering from the extreme 
symptoms of cholera or dysentery were as likely to recover 
as those who had simple diarrhoea ; while the mild disease was 
frequently as fatal as the most severe. The peculiar symptom, 
among others, which affected the great majority, was "a kind 
of perpetual uneasiness within the abdomen. f There was a 
general complaint of what was called sinking at the pit of the 
stomach. What this sinking is, only those know who have 
suffered it. All patients speak of it by the same name, but do 

* Latham on the Diseases of the Penitentiary, p. 31, et seq. 
t Ibil, p. 36. 


not describe it further. From observation, I suspected it to 
consist of a certain degree of actual pain combined witli a 
feeling which, is akin to approaching syncope, and spreads 
from the stomach as a centre over the whole frame. It is a 
painful and overpowering sensation, as if animal life itself was 
hurt and lessened." Apparently this sensation was the most 
painful and distressing of all a patient's sufferings. "Patients 
would continually endeavour to withdraw our attention from 
the more tangible symptoms of their disorder, for the sake of 
fixing it upon this. When we were interrogating them upon 
circumstances appai-ently more urgent, they would interrupt 
us, exclaiming, ' But this sinking, this sinking, pray do 
something for this sinking.' " * 

Many suffered severe pains, which came and subsided, and 
came again, and were often aggravated into paroxysms of 
most extreme torture. These pains partook chiefly of the 
character of colic. Another feature curious in the disease was, 
that whether the patient had diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, or 
flux, his tongue during the whole course of the complaint was 
clean and moist, and of its natural colour. This struck every 
medical man who came to the prison. In a few cases it might 
be a little redder than usual ; sometimes coated with mucus, 
sometimes brown and dry ; but in not a single instance was 
there the red, glossy, smooth tongue peculiar to dysentery. 
As has been stated already, the severity of the symptoms 
were no criterion of the severity of the disease ; indeed, the 
most formidable form of the disorder was mild diarrhoea. 

Two cases of this kind occurred early in the outbreak, 
and progressed slowly and certainly to a fatal termination. 
The patients had no other symptom but simple diarrhoea; 
they were in no pain, no fever ; pulse at sixty and no more. 
" Never," says Dr. Latham, " did I witness the process of 
dissolution so lingering." f Later on cases of this kind became 
more and more numerous ; and it was that form of the disease 
which the physicians most feared. The patients thus affected 
were generally given up for lost; they lay in bed without 
fever, and without pain; no excitement of the pulse, no 

* Latham on the Diseases of the Penitentiary, p. 37. 

+ Ibid. p. 41. 


symptom but continuous diarrhoea. But this one symptom 
nothing whatever could restrain. They did not complain much, 
speaking only of " this terrible sinking at the stomach." * 
But soon their complaining ceased, "li roused then, they 
looked up for a moment, made no lamentation, then laid their 
heads down again in despair. It was a dismal office to watch 
over their tardy dissolution, and witness the frustration of 
every expedient for their relief. These were the cases in 
which we first put the efficacy of mercury to successful proof; 
and I cannot help mentioning the relief my mind experienced 
from a sense of responsibility which had now become truly 
awful, as soon as the salutary influence of this remedy was 
apparent." Mercury was then eventually tried, because the 
remedies formerly efficacious were now found to fail altogether 
even in the simplest cases. Neither chalk mixture nor tincture 
of opium afforded the slightest relief; nor had astringent bitters, 
aromatics, mucilaginous drinks, antimonials, and ipecacuanha. 

So far we have dealt only with the bowel complaints ; but 
other disorders showed themselves in those attacked by the 
Penitentiary epidemic. Principal among these were the dis- 
orders of the brain and nervous system. The physicians in 
their first report stated that all who suffered from scurvy were 
liable also to "various degrees of nervous affections, as 
tremors, cramps, or spasms, and various degrees of mental 
despondency." But for a long time after the epidemic re- 
appeared, there seemed to be no special reason for connecting 
these symptoms with ■ the predominating disease. By-and-by 
the disorders of the brain became more and more frequent and 
of various kinds, including headache, vertigo, cramps and 
twitching of the limbs, delirium, convulsions, and apoplexy. 
Then it was that the doctors began to understand that these 
disorders were contingent on the flux. Fever also, of more 
rare occurrence, accompanied the other symptoms ; so that the 
whole disease, taking it from its beginning, might be said to 
include four different classes of symptoms — those of scurvy, 
flux, brain disorders, and fever. 

The following figures will show at a glance the character 
and extent of the disorder during the months of May, June, 
* Latham on the Diseases of the Penitentiary, p. 43. 


and July, 1823 .—On May 15tli, 345 were sick; on May 23rd, 
386 ; next montli the numbers rose to 454 ; but on July 3rd 
they had fallen to 438. At this time the prison population 
amounted to about 800. There were in all 30 deaths. 

By July a slight improvement for the better took place ; 
but it is easy to understand that the medical men in charge 
were still much troubled with fears for the future. Grant- 
ing even that the disease had succumbed to treatment, 
there was the danger, with all the prisoners in a low state 
of health, of relapse, or even of an epidemic in a new shape. 
Hence it was felt that an immediate change of air and place 
would be the best security against further disease. But 
several hundred convicts could not be sent to the sea-side like 
ordinary convalescents ; besides which they were committed 
to Millbank by Act of Parliament, and only by Act of Parlia- 
ment could they be removed. This difficulty was easily met. 
An Act of Parliament more or less made no matter to Mill- 
bank — many pages in the Statute Book were covered already 
with legislation for the Penitentiary. A new Act was im- 
mediately passed, authorising the committee to transfer the 
prisoners from Millbank to situations more favourable for the 
recovery of their health. In accordance with its provisions 
one part of the female prisoners were at once sent into the 
Koyal Ophthalmic Hospital in Regent's Park, at that time 
standing empty ; their number during July and August was 
increased to 120, by which time a hulk, the Ethalion, had 
been prepared at Woolwich for male convicts, and thither went 
200, towards the end of August. Those selected for removal 
were the prisoners who had suffered most from the disease. 
This was an experiment ; and according to its results the fate 
of those who remained at Millbank was to be determined. 
" The benefit of the change of air and situation," says Dr. 
Latham, " was immediately apparent." Within a fortnight 
there was less complaint of illness, and most of the patients 
already showed symptoms of returning health. Meanwhile, 
among the prisoners left at Millbank there was little change, 
though at times all were threatened with a return of the old 
disorder, less virulent in its character, however, and missing 
half its former frightful forms. By September, a comparison 


between those at Regent^s Park or tLe liulk and those still in 
Millbank was so much in favour of the former that the point 
at issue seemed finally settled. Beyond doubt the change of 
air had been extremely beneficial; nevertheless^ of the two 
changes, it was evident that the move to the hulks at Wool- 
wich had the better of the change to Regent^s Park. On 
board the Ethalion the prisoners had suffered fewer relapses and 
had gained a greater degree of health than those at Regent^s 
Park, On the whole, therefore, it was considered advisable to 
complete the process of emptying Millbank. The males and 
females alike were drafted into different hulks off Woolwich. 
These changes were carried out early in December, and by 
that time the Millbank Penitentiary was entirely emptied. 

One remarkable circumstance attended the removal of the 
prisoners. All alike, on arrival at Woolwich, experienced 
an immediate improvement in health. For a time, indeed, 
their disorder altogether disappeared. But this speedy 
amendment was unhappily almost always completely fallacious. 
The diarrhoea invariably returned, and though milder in 
its form, it was still the same old Millbank complaint. Nor 
was there even any security that those who became con- 
valescent were entirely and completely cured. Sometimes 
patients, after having been free from any symptoms of 
complaint for even four or five months, again fell victims 
to the disease. This fluctuation was necessarily embarrass- 
ing to the physicians in charge. At one visit they found, 
perhaps, not five-and-twenty cases in a couple of hundred 
men ; at the next, half the whole number would be 
afflicted with diarrhoea. The progress, therefore, to ulti- 
mate and complete restoration to health was altogether 
uncertain. In all cases the females were those whose cure 
seemed permanently postponed. Fresh attacks of a severe 
character continually appeared among them. On the other 
hand, women who had been pardoned came back, from time 
to time, and showed themselves at the hulks, restored to 
perfect health. It seemed, then, that the only chance of 
preserving the lives of all, was to set all at liberty; and, 
indeed, the sufferings they had undergone might well be 
taken as an equivalent of many years^ imprisonment. These 


arguments prevailed, and eventually the whole of the female- 
prisoners received the pardon of the Crown. But though all 
were thus made free, they were not turned adrift en masse to 
shift for themselves. The Home Secretary, in all cases, 
communicated first with the prisoners' friends throughout 
the kingdom ; and no one was set at large till it was clear 
that she had a home to receive her. In this way the dismissal 
of the prisoners was protracted, and it was not till the 18th 
January, 1824, that the last woman had left the Penitentiary 
hulks. With the men it was different: their health had not,, 
certainly, deteriorated nearly so much; and yet it was felt to be 
unsafe to send them back to the prison. On board the hulks, 
however, they were lapsing rapidly into utter anarchy and 
confusion. To extend a wholesale pardon to some 400 felons 
was a measure that rather frightened those who wielded the 
prerogative of clemency. These men must remain in durance, 
but where ? After some discussion it was resolved to transfer 
the whole of the men to the regular hulk establishments, and 
accordingly another Act was passed, giving Government the 
necessary power. It was hoped that by thus distributing the 
Penitentiary prisoners, subjecting them to a new discipline 
and active occupation, their health would soon recover. The 
result verified the expectation. At the end of the year those 
who were in medical charge reported that the health of these 
men was quite as good as that of the other prisoners. In 
this manner the epidemic came to an end. Millbank was 
emptied, remained vacant for some months, and was eventually 
refilled, but with an entirely new class of inmates. 

But though the epidemic ended thus, the question, was 
not to die out with the flickering out of the disease. For- 
some time to come the question how it originated and who- 
was to blame, agitated many minds. As I have already 
pointed out, the physicians in the first instance (in April) 
attributed the disease to a sudden change from a full to a 
sparse diet, aided by the cold of an unusually severe winter. 
At that time they absolved the locality of all share in the 
noxious causes. But when in May the disease reappeared 
Avith renewed virulence, they had to reconsider their verdict, 
and issued a second report. They stated now that it was. 


impossible that it could have sprung exclusively from the 
causes at first put forward. Cold and scanty nourishment 
would always suffice, of course, to produce scurvy ; but here 
at Millbank these causes were not present in the most intense 
degree. The winter was cold, no doubt ; but then the 
prisoners were not out of doors — they were sheltered under 
a warm roof. Again, the diet might be insufficient, still it 
was wholesome in its kind. Neither one nor other, nor 
both combined, might well be credited with producing a 
disorder so virulent and fatal. New facts had to be sought 
out ; and these were to be found, the physicians thought, in 
contagion and an injurious influence peculiar to the place. 
Of the first there could be no reasonable doubt. The illness 
was no longer confined, as on the first outbreak, to the 
prisoners alone ; the officers high and low were now equally 
attacked. The chaplain caught it from attending the sick, 
and his family suffered because he had taken as servant a 
convict who was not entirely recovered. New prisoners, too, 
upon whom the changed dietary had had little time to act, 
were quite as susceptible as the old. This showed the diet was 
not alone at fault ; and as to the weather — why, it was already 
spring time, or indeed the early summer before the epidemic 
showed itself in its worst form. Undoubtedly, then, the 
inference was that the disease had grown contagious. And 
it was contagious in a manner peculiar to itself ; convalescents 
were reinfected by it, which is quite unusual with ordinary 

Again, as to the noxious influence peculiar to the place, 
the physicians asserted that, on a close examination of the 
prison apothecary's books, they now ascertained that for 
years past diarrhoea had been prevalent in the Penitentiary. 
Its existence was proved less by recorded cases than by 
the character of the prescriptions made up. The medicine 
commonest in use was chalk mixture, and this of itself 
was evidence enough. The inmates of Millbank must, they 
thought, have been always subject to attacks of this kind. 

It was not to be supposed that this second report could be 
accepted by the committee without comment. Its conclusions 
were construed into a direct attack upon the prison situation 

p 2 


and its management generally. Mr. Holford, an active 
member of the committee, took up the cudgels and replied 
warmly. Pamphlet followed pamphlet on either side ; but the 
question at issue was never satisfactorily set at rest. Looking 
back now, after a lapse of years, and with the light of acquired 
experience, it is less difficult to decide the question. All the 
causes quoted undoubtedly contributed their share, in a greater 
or less degree. But it was the change of diet that actually 
originated the disease. Conditions that might otherwise have 
continued dormant or unnoticed, were by this agent called 
into active existence. The inmates of the Penitentiary were 
ripe for attack perhaps, but failing some spark to set the 
mass aflame might have escaped altogether. This spark 
was the ill-judged reduction of the dietary, accompanied 
as it was by a complete change in the character of its con- 
stituents. Not only was the supply of sustenance insuffi- 
cient, but solid food was now altogether excluded. Gruel 
for breakfast, soup for dinner, soup for supper; these were 
the viands at the three meals. Everything was liquid but 
the bread ; yet even this might have passed without such 
serious consequences but for another and more fatal error. 
Vegetables were almost entirely omitted from the new 
scale. In the first there had been a daily issue of a 
pound of potatoes; in the second, potatoes might be sub- 
stituted for bread at the discretion of the committee, but 
practically this never occurred. Taking all these circum- 
stances in conjunction, it is easy to understand that a body 
of prisoners, not indisposed naturally to attack, fell an easy 
prey to the epidemic. The spirit of evil once evoked 
soon found allies all around, and could not easily be laid. 
Now the situation and surroundings of the prison threw 
their weight into the scale — the artificial ground on which 
the building had been raised, the stagnant moat of dirty 
water that encircled its walls, the bitter cold of an unusually 
severe winter. Aided and abetted thus, the scurvy and its 
sequels took fast hold of the place, and the disease ran its 
course with the severity that has been described. 




The inner life of the Penitentiary went on much as usual 
in the early days of the epidemic. There are at first only 
the ordinary entries in the governor's journal. Prisoners 
came and went; this one was pardoned, that received from 
Newgate or some county gaol. Repeated reports of mis- 
conduct are recorded. The prisoners seemed fretful and 
mischievous. Now and then they actually complained of 
the want of food. One prisoner was taken to task for 


telling his father, in tlie visiting cell, that '' six prisoners 
out of every seven would die for want of rations." But at 
length the blow fell. ''On the 14th of February, 1823, Ann 
Smith died in the infirmary at half -past nine." On the 17th, 
Mary Ann Davidson; on the 19th, Mary Esp ; on the 23rd, 
William Cardwell; on the 24th, Humphrey Adams; on the 
28th, Margaret Patterson. And now, by order of the visitor, 
the prisoners were ordered more walking exercise. Then 
follow the first steps taken by Drs. Eoget and Latham. The 
governor records, on the 3rd March, that the doctors 
recommend each prisoner should have daily four ounces of 
meat and three oranges; that their bread should be divided 
into three parts, an orange taken at each meal. Accordingly 
"I sent the steward to Thames Street to lay in a week's 
consumption of oranges." 

An entry soon afterwards gives the first distinct reference 
to the epidemic. '' The medical gentlemen having begged for 
the bodies of such prisoners as might die of the disorder now 
prevalent in the prison, in order to make post-mortem 
examinations, the same was sanctioned if the friends of the 
prisoner did not wish to interfere." Deaths were now very 
frequent, and hardly a week passed without a visit from the 
coroner or his deputy. 

On the 25th March the governor, Mr. Couch, who had 
been ailing for some time past, resigned his charge into the 
hands of Captain Benjamin Chapman. Soon afterwards there 
were further additions to the dietary — on the 26th of April 
two more ounces of meat and twelve ounces of boiled potatoes ; 
and the day after, it was ordered that each prisoner should 
drink toast-and-water,- — three half-pints daily. Lime, in 
large tubs, was to be provided in all the pentagons for the 
purpose of disinfection. 

About this period there was a great increase of insubordi- 
nation among the prisoners. It is easy to understand that 
discipline must be relaxed when all were more or less ailing 
and unable to bear punishment. The sick wards were 
especially noisy and turbulent. One man, for instance, was 
charged with shouting loudly and using atrocious language ; 
all of which of course he denied, declaring he had only said. 


•*' God bless the King, my tongue is very mucli swelled." 
Upon this the turnkey in charge observed that it was a pity 
it was not swelled more^ and Smith (the prisoner) pursued 
the argument by hitting his officer on the head with a pint 
pot. Later on they broke out almost into mutiny. Here is 
what the governor says: — '^At a quarter to eight o'clock 
Taskmaster Swift informed me that the whole of the prisoners 
in the infirmary ward of his pentagon were in the most 
disorderly and riotous state, in consequence of the wooden 
doors of the cells having been ordered by the surgeon to be 
shut during the night ; that the prisoners peremptorily refused 
to permit the turnkeys to shut their doors, and made use of 
the most opprobrious terms in speaking of Mr. Pratt, 
threatening destruction to whoever might attempt to shut 
their doors. Their shouts and yells were so loud as to be 
heard at a considerable distance. I immediately summoned 
the patrols, and several of the turnkeys, and making them 
take their cutlasses, I repaired to the sick ward. I found the 
wooden doors all open, and the prisoners, for the most part, 
at their iron gates, which were shut. The first prisoner I 
came to was John Hall. I asked him the reason he refused 
to shut his door when ordered. He answered in a very 
insolent tone and manner, ' Why should I do so ? ' I then 
said : ^ Shut your door instantly,' but he would not comply. 
I took him away and confined him in a dark cell. In con- 
veying him to the cell he made use of most abusive and 
threatening language, but did not make any personal re- 
sistance." Five others who were pointed out as prominent in 
the mutiny were also punished on bread and water and dark 
cell, by the surgeon's permission. 

Nor were matters much more satisfactory in the female 
infirmary wards. 

"Mrs. Briant, having reported yesterday, during my 
absence at Woolwich, that Mary Willson had 'wilfully cut 
her shoes,' and having stated the same verbally this morning, 
I went with her into the infirmary, where the prisoner was, 
and having produced the shoes to her (the upper-leather of 
■one of them being palpably cut from the sole), and asked her 
•why she cut them, she said she had not cut them, that they 


had come undone whilst walking in the garden. This being 
an evident falsehood, I told her I feared she was doing some- 
thing worse than cutting her shoes by telling an untruth. 
She answered in a very saucy manner, they were not her 
shoes, and that she had not cut them. She became at length 
very insolent, when I told her she deserved to be punished. 
She replied she did not care whether she was or not. I then 
directed the surgeon to be sent for; when not only the 
prisoner, but several others in the infirmary, became very 
clamorous, and evinced a great degree of insubordination. I 
went out with the intention of getting a couple of patrols, 
when I heard the crash of broken glass and loud screams. I 
returned as soon as possible with the patrols into the infirmary. 
The women generally attempted to oppose my entrance, and 
a group had got Willson amongst them, and said she should 
not be confined, I desired the patrols to lay hold of her, and 
take her to the dark cell (I had met with Dr. Hugh when 
going for the patrols, who under the circumstances sanctioned 
the removal of the prisoner). In doing so, Betts and Stone 
were assaulted with the utmost violence; I myself was 
violently laid hold of, and my wrist and finger painfully 
twisted. I had Willson, however, taken to the dark cell, 
when, having summoned several of the turnkeys and oflScers 
of the prison, I with considerable difficulty succeeded in 
taking six more of them who appeared to be most forward 
in this disgraceful riot. Several of the large panes in the 
passage windows were broken ; and the women seized every- 
thing they could lay their hands on, and flung them at the 
officers, who, in self-defence, were at length compelled to 
strike in return. I immediately reported the circumstance to 
Sir George Farrant, the visitor, who came to the prison soon 
after. I accompanied him, as did Dr. Bennett (the chaplain) 
and Mr. Pratt, through the female pentagon and infirmary, 
when a strong spirit of insubordination was obvious. Sir 
George addressed them, and so did Dr. Bennett, and pointed 
out the serious injury they were doing themselves, and that 
such conduct would not pass unpunished. We afterwards 
visited the dark refractory cells, where the worst were 
confined ; two of whom, on account of previous good conduct 


and favourable circumstances, were liberated. For myself, 
I never beheld such a scene of outrage, nor did I observe 
a single individual who was not culpably active." 

As a general rule, the prisoners in the Penitentiary were 
in these days so little looked after, and had so much leisure 
time, that they soon found the proverbial " mischief " of the 
hymnist. Having some suspicions, the governor searched 
several, and found up the sleeves of five of them, knives, 
playing cards (made from an old copy-book), two articles to 
hold ink, a baby's straw hat, some papers (written upon), and 
an original song of questionable tendency. The hearts and 
diamonds in the cards had been covered with red chalk, 
clubs and spades with blacking. " Having received informa- 
tion that there were more cards about, I caused strict search 
to be made, and found in John Brown's Bible, one card and 
the materials for making more, also a small knife made of 
bone. In another prisoner's cell was found another knife 
and some paste, ingeniously contrived from old bread-crumbs." 
But even these amusements did not keep the prisoners from 
continually quarrelling and fighting with one another. Any 
one who had made himself obnoxious was severely handled. 
A body of prisoners fell upon, one Tompkins, and half killed 
him, "because he had reported the irreverent conduct of 
several of them while at Divine Service." The place was 
like a bear-garden. Insubordination, riots, foul language, 
and continual wranglings among themselves — it could hardly 
be said that the prisoners were making that rapid progress 
towards improvement which was among the principal objects 
of the Penitentiary. 

But now the scene shifts to the Woolwich hulks, whither 
by this time the whole of the inmates were being by degrees 
transferred. The first batch of males were sent off on the 
16th August, embarking at Millbank, and proceeding by 
launch to Woolwich. Great precautions were taken. All the 
disposable taskmasters, turnkeys, and patrols being armed 
and stationed from the outer lodge to the quay (River Stairs), 
the prisoners were assembled by six at a time, and placed 
without irons in the launch. The same plan was pursued 
from time to time, till at length the whole number were 


removed. The hulks were the EtJialion, Narcissus, Dromedary . 
A master was on board in charge of each, under the general 
supervision of Captain Chapman, the Governor of the Peni- 
tentiary. There was immediately a further great deteriora- 
tion in the conduct of the prisoners. Not only were they 
mischievous, as appeared from their favourite pastime^ which 
was to drag off one another's bed-clothes in the middle of 
the night, by means of a crooked nail attached to a long 
strings* but the decks which they occupied were for ever in 
a state of anarchy and confusion. "All the prisoners below," 
says the overseer of the Ethalion, '' conducted themselves last 
night in a most improper manner, by singing obscene songs 
and making a noise. When summoned to appear on the 
upper deck, they treated the master with defiance and contempt, 
so that the ringleaders had to be put in irons." But it was a 
mere waste of time to confine prisoners below. There was 
no place of security to hold them. "A number of prisoners 
broke their confinement by forcibly removing the boards of 
the different cabins in which they were placed in the cockpit, 
and got together in the fore hold, where they were found by 
Mr. Lodge at half-past nine at night.'" Another prisoner, 
a day or two later, confined in the hold, broke out, and 
proceeded through the holds and wings of the ship till he 
arrived at the fore hold, where another prisoner, Connor, was 
confined for irreverent behaviour during chapel. Connor tore 
up the boards fastened on to the mast-hatch, and admitted 
Williams to him. " When Williams' escape was discovered," 
says the overseer, " I searched for him in the bottom of the 
ship. On my arriving at the bulkhead of the fore hold I 
inquired of Connor if Williams was with him. He declared he 
was not, calling on God to witness his assertion; but on 
opening the hatch, to my astonishment I found him there. I 
ordered him back to the place in which he was first confined ; 
on which he used the most abusive language, saying, by 
God, when he was released he would murder me and every 
ofl&cer in the ship. I talked mildly to him, and desired him 
to return to the place in which he had been confined. He 

* The prisoners called this in their own slang, " toeing and gooseing." 


at last complied, using the most abusive and threatening 
language. When he had returned to the after hold, I put the 
leg-irons on him to prevent his forcing out a second time, 
giving him at the same time to understand, that if he would 
behave himself they would soon be taken off. But he was still 
turbulent, breaking everything before him. I then put hand- 
cuffs on him, notwithstanding which he broke out at 9 p.m., 
disengaged himself from the handcuffs, and got a second time 
to the fore [hold, where I again found him, and insisted on his 
returning. He kicked me very much in the legs, using, as 
before, threatening language. I then found it necessary to 
use force, and taking guards Wadeson and Clarke with the 
steward, we again removed him to his first place of confine- 
ment. He appeared so resolute and determined to commit 
depredations, that I fastened his leg-irons to a five-inch staple 
in the timber of the hold, which staple he tore up during the 
night, and again passed to Connor in the fore hold. 

"The prisoners were assembled upon deck, and were 
expostulated with, both by Mr. Holford and Captain Chapman, 
and exhorted to avoid insubordination on pain of certain 
punishment." Mr. Lodge also reported five prisoners for 
highly improper and reprehensible conduct, by making use of 
profane expressions and shocking language when interrogated 
as to their knowledge of the catechism. These five men 
Mr. Holford individually addressed, and all promised they 
would endeavour to learn it, " except Isaac Squince, who 
appears a hardened wretch." 

" Lieut. Goulding of the navy came on board to prefer a 
complaint against some of the prisoners for repeatedly insult- 
ing him as he passed the ship in his boat. It appears that 
the lieutenant using his glass to view the ship, some of the 
prisoners from the ports have imitated him, by putting some- 
thing to their eyes as if to quiz, at which he was greatly 

On the 6th November, Mr. Lodge, who" was in charge of the 
Ethalion, was drowned in coming off to the ship. The tide 
was running very strong, and the boat in which Mr. Lodge 
was became unmanageable ; the current taking it between the 
two hulks, Mr. Lodge used the boat-hook to keep clear of the 


ship^s sides, but missing his liold was precipitated backwards 
into the river. Mr. Gould, who was with him, plunged in imme- 
diately to save him, but without effect, and with difficulty saved 
himself. The prisoners are reported to have testified much good 
feeling on hearing of Mr. Lodge's fatal accident, "with the 
simple exception of John Lovatt, who, having expressed some 
indecent exultation, was immediately laid hold of by the rest 
of the prisoners and ducked in the water cistern, and had it 
not been for the interference of the guards would have treated 
him much worse." A day later the prisoners sent in the 
following petitions, which the governor considers " so credit- 
able, that he felt highly gratified in permanently recording 
them " in his Journal. 

" To the Honble. Committee managing the affairs of the 
General Penitentiary, per the favour of Benjamin 
Chapman, Esquire, the Governor. Given on board the 
Ethalion Hospital Ship, 7th Nov., 1823. 
" Gentlemen, — The undermentioned individuals, composing 
the prisoners of the upper deck, with feelings of the deepest 
commiseration for the melancholy fate of their late most 
worthy Master Lodge, together with all the distressing circum- 
stances attending it, are desirous of showing some mark of 
gratitude for his uniform kindness; and the only means 
within their power of doing so, is to contribute a small sum 
out of their percentage (of earnings) as a reward for the 
recovery of his body ; and should there be any overplus, to be 
presented to his disconsolate widow, if she will please to accept 
it ; but in case of non-acceptance, it is their wish that it be 
applied towards erecting a tombstone on his grave, as a 
lasting monument of his worth and a token of their unfeigned 
respect to his memory.'" 

The sums subscribed varied from 2s. Qd. to hs. and 10s,, 
even 25s. A second petition set forth that the following 
prisoners " voluntarily subscribed the undermentioned sums 
to be given to the watermen employed in searching the River 
Thames for the body of their much lamented master, John 
Lodge ; or as a consideration for his unhappy wife, at the 


discretion of the Honble. Committee, wliom they humbly hope 
will allow their several donations to be deducted from their 
percentage profit, as a token of respect for this late excellent 
man while living, and now unfeignedly regretted dead." 

In addition to the foregoing, Morgan Williams, a prisoner 
pretty familiar by name, told the governor : " If I had the 
money, sir, I would have cheerfully subscribed as much as 
any man ; but I am in debt to the establishment already, and 
putting down my name would be pretending to what I know 
I could not perform." 

These several petitions were received with much satis- 
faction by the committee. 

Having aired their good feelings thus, the prisoners soon 
returned to their normal condition of savage turbulence. On 
the 18th a most tumultuous noise took place on the lower 
deck about eight in the evening ; and reiterated cries of 
" Murder ! " " You'll throttle me," were distinctly heard 
from one who appeared to be almost exhausted. " I imme- 
diately assembled the guards," says the overseer, ''and armed 
them with cutlasses, and went into the lower deck, which was 
in the greatest state of uproar and confusion. The prisoners 
were congregated at the head of the deck, holding John 
Pryce, who was foaming at the mouth, and appeared to be in 
a complete state of madness." There had been a violent 
quarrel between this man and another named Robinson, and 
but for the prompt interference of the officers it is probable 
that murder would have been committed. 

On the 27th it was found that some prisoners had made 
their escape from the Ethalion hulk. On mustering the 
prisoners in the morning three were missing. Search was 
immediately made, but they were not to be found. All the 
hatches on the lower deck were secure ; but it was ascertained, 
on examination of the after hold, that the prisoners must have 
made their way into the steward's store-room, where they had 
taken out the window. One of them then swam off to the 
Shear hulk, secured the boat, brought it to the after windows, 
and by that means, assisting each other, the three effected 
their escape. The boat belonging to the Shear hulk was 
found at the Prince Regent's Ferry House, on the Essex coast. 


After a close investigation it was not possible to bring the 
blame borne to any one. All tbe guards proved of course 
tbat tbey were on tbe alert all nigbt. Tbe steward said be 
bad bad a blister on, and could not sleep a wink, but be never 
missed bearing tbe bell struck (by tbe watcb) every quarter of 
an bour. Stevenson, one of tbose wbo bad escaped, bad 
always been employed in tbe steward's store-room, bence be 
knew bis way about tbe sbip. Being a sailor and a good 
swimmer, it was probably be wbo bad gone to tbe Shear 
bulk and got a boat, taking witb bim one end of a rope made 
of bammock nettings, tbe otber being fast to a beam in tbe 
store-room. By tbis rope tbe Shear bulk boat was bauled 
gently to tbe Ethalion; tben tbe two otber prisoners got into 
it, and it was allowed to drift down for some distance witb 
tbe tide. No sound wbatever of oars bad been beard during 
tbe nigbt by tbe sentries on board or on share. Tbe 
escape must bave been made between 1 and 2 a.m., as at 
tbree tbe men were seen landing from a boat on tbe Essex 

Information of tbe escape soon spread among tbe otber 
prisoners, and it was pretty certain tbat many would attempt 
to follow. Tbey were reported to be ripe for any mischief. 
Tbe j&re-arms were carefully inspected by tbe governor, wbo 
insisted on their being kept constantly in good order and 
" well-flinted." At the same time a strict search was made 
through the ship, particularly of the lower deck, for any 
implements that might be secreted to facilitate escape. False 
keys were reported to be in existence, but none could be found ; 
only a large sledge-hammer, a ripping chisel, and some iron 
bolts which were concealed in the caboose. A few days after- 
wards the master of the Ethalion reported the discovery of a 
number of other dangerous articles in various parts of tbe ship, 
several more sledge-hammers, chisels, iron bars, spike nails, etc., 
all calculated to do much mischief, and endanger the safety of 
the ship. At the same time, four prisoners were overheard plan- 
ning another escape. They were to steal the key of a closet on 
the deck, and alter it so as to fit the locks of tbe bulkheads 
into the infirmary wards, and pass by this means to the 
cabin, and out through one of the ports. The key was 


immediately impounded, and a strict watcli kept all night. 
Between eleven and twelve the guard reported that he heard 
a noise like filing through iron bars ; so the master got into a 
boat with two others and rowed round the ship. They were 
armed with a cutlass and blunderbuss, " which,'^ says the 
master, " I particularly requested might be put out of 
sight." But everything was perfectly quiet on the lower deck, 
and on going through the upper deck the only discovery 
made Avas a prisoner sitting by a lamp, manufacturing a 
draught-board, which he refused to part with. They left 
the deck quite quiet ; yet at half-past three the whole 
place was in an uproar. A regular stand-up fight took place 
between two prisoners, Elgar and Bloi'e, in which the former 
got his eyes blackened and face damaged in the most shame- 
ful manner. This Elgar was the man who gave information 
of the projected escape, thereby incurring the resentment 
of the rest. It is improbable, however, that any attempt was 
actually intended this time, though ''escape" was in every 
mouth, and had been since the event of the previous Thursday. 

Speaking of the hulks at this time, the governor says : 
" It is but too true that little if any discipline exists among 
the prisoners, and that the state of insubordination is 
extremely alarming. This may in a great degree be attri- 
buted to the lamentable state of idleness, the facility of 
communicating with each other, concerting and perpetrating^ 
mischief, and the inadequate means of punishment when 
contrasted with the hulks establishment." 

Four days afterwards the master of the Ethalion hulk 
reports that the disorderly conduct of the convicts in the upper 
deck still continued ; their language to their officers was 
always contemptuous and insolent ; they seldom or ever did 
what they were told ; and if put under restraint or in close 
confinement, they generally managed to tear down the bulk- 
head and smash everything in their reach. The women were 
not much better. When a draft of male prisoners going ta 
the Ethalion passed the females' hulk, the whole of the women 
commenced to shout and yell, and wave handkerchiefs. They 
abused the deputy matron with choice invectives, and appeared 
quite beyond control. 


Bat by this time news had come of the missing three. 
At nine o'clock one night a person called at the Peniten- 
tiary and asked to see the governor in private. He was 
shown into the office. " You had three prisoners escape 
from Woolwich lately ? One of them is my brother, Charles 
Knight. I am very anxious he should be brought back. 
What is the penalty for escaping?'' He was informed, 
also, that there was a charge of stealing from the steward's 
store. Knight's brother said he would willingly pay the 
damage of that, and wished to make conditions for the 
fugitive if he was given up. The governor would not 
promise beyond an assurance of speaking in Knight's 
favour to the committee ; and said all would depend upon 
his making a full and candid disclosure of all the circum- 
stances connected with the escape, and to give all the 
information in his power which would lead to the arrest 
of the other two. The visitor then observed that his 
brother was very young, and by no means a hardened 
offender ; that he was led into this act and was sorry for it ; 
that none of his relations would harbour him, and that he 
was quite ready to return. Next morning he was brought 
back by his mother and brother, and gave immediately a 
full account of the affair. The escape had been concerted 
a full week before it was carried into effect, and had 
been arranged entirely by Stevenson, who having been 
employed in the store-room, had purloined a key, filed out 
the wards and made a skeleton key, with which he opened 
the hatches. The rope was made out of spun yarn, found 
in the hold by Stevenson, who also got there the sledge- 
hammer, chisel, and iron spikes. There was not a soul 
moving or awake on the lower deck, and no one knew of 
their intention to escape. They then got away in a boat, 
just as had been surmised. On landing at the new ferry 
on the Essex coast, they went across the chain pier, Payne 
changing a shilling to pay the toll. This was all the money 
they had amongst them, and had been conveyed to Payne 
by some person in the ship. They then proceeded to London, 
and were supplied with hats by a Jew named Wolff, living in 
Somerset Street, Whitechapel, to whose house they were taken 


by Stevenson. Afterwards they went to the West End. 
Payne separated from them in Waterloo Place, saying he 
meant to go to a brother living at Stratford-on-Avon. 
Stevenson then took Knight to his brother^s (Stevenson's), 
a working jeweller, who gave them money to buy clothes. 
They hid together for the night in a house in George Street, 
St. Giles ; and then Knight went home to his aunt's in 
Hanover Street, Long Acre, but was refused admittance. 
The same happened with all his other relatives, and at last he 
was compelled to give himself up in the manner described. 
Through information which he gave the others also were 

It was now found that there must be some superior autho- 
rity resident on the spot. " The visits of the governor to 
these hulks," say the committee in their report of 6th March, 
1824, 'though frequent, were not sufl&cient to preserve order 
in the ships, and it was quite necessary to have a person, with 
the full authority of the governor to inflict punishment, resi- 
dent on board one of these vessels ; and there appearing to be 
no power in the committee under the existing Act of Parlia- 
ment either to appoint a second governor, or to authorise any 
person not being governor to inflict punishment, it was 
arranged between the committee and Captain Chapman that 
he should resign the situation of governor for a time, in order 
that the ofiice might be exercised by a person who should 
continually reside on board one of these vessels." Accordingly 
Captain Chapman resigned his appointment pro tern, into the 
hands of a Mr. Kellock, a hulk master from Sheerness, who 
was said to have had great experience. This was on the 14th 
December, 1823, on which date his Journal, from which I 
shall frequently quote, takes up the story. No improvement 
in conduct marked the change in rulers. On the 21st Mr. 
Kellock reports : " I heard this morning an extraordinary 
noise on the upper deck. In a moment I called the guards 
and went below. All was quiet, but on searching, I found a 
prisoner lying almost lifeless, who had been most unmercifully 
beaten by his fellows. I interrogated them, but could not 
find the parties concerned." 

The numbers on board the several ships were in all 634. 



They were not classified ; tlie distinctions of tlie Penitentiary, 
as well as the dress, were done away with. All alike were 
clothed in a coarse brown suit. They were kept in divisions 
of seventy-five, with a wardsman in charge of each division"; 
besides which, a number of well-conducted prisoners were 
appointed to keep watch during the night, who were to report 
any irregularity that might occur during the watch. There 
was no employment for the prisoners ; the making of great 
coats was tried, but it did not succeed. There was no work to 
be got on shore, and it was doubtful whether these prisoners 
could be legally employed on shore. In fact the whole 
establishment was considered a sort of house of recovery, and 
all the prisoners were more or less under hospital treatment 
throughout. The general conduct of the prisoners was " un- 
ruly to a degree, and in some instances to the extent of 
mutiny." This is one case, reported in writing by the master 
of the Ethalion : " This morning, soon after the lower- 
deck prisoners were let up to wash themselves, three of them 
attempted to make their escape, by getting down the ship's 
side, and then into the waterman's boat, which was alongside 
without oars. Being observed by the guard, two returned, 
whilst one strove to make his escape. He was pursued by 
two turnkeys, who took him and brought him back, when he 
was placed in confinement. Shortly afterwards, this man and 
another, who had previously been in confinement, were libe- 
rated by their fellow-prisoners on the lower deck, by forcibly 
entering into the hold and making their way through the 
bulkhead which separates the dark cells from the hold. They 
have the prisoners now in their possession, and will not deliver 
them up. They continue to be in a state of mutiny." Mr. 
Kellock was immediately summoned to the scene. He found 
the prisoners ranged on the deck, with the two men in their 
possession, and peremptorily refusing to give them up. The 
guard of marines was then sent for from the shore, while the 
chaplain and surgeon remonstrated with the prisoners, pointing 
out the dreadful consequences certain to follow military 
interference. But they spoke to no purpose, and were about 
to leave the ship, unwilling to witness the shedding of blood, 
when a last effort was more successful. The two prisoners 


were given up Iby the rest, who now expressed sorrow for 
their atrocious conduct. Nothing, however, came of all this, 
beyond general exhortation. The prisoners were all mustered 
and harangued, but as they promised to behave better in 
future, the affair passed over. 

The state of affairs was shortly this : if on deck, the 
prisoners hallooed and jeered at all boats or passing ships ; 
if below, they massed together, disobeyed all orders, openly 
hissed their officers and pelted them with coals. The crowd- 
ing was so great that it was almost impossible to single out 
offenders. The ill-conducted were when practicable placed in 
irons, but generally without effect. The bad became worse, not 
better. The governor's Journal continues to tell the same tale : 

" December 29th. — At three o'clock this afternoon, when 
the prisoners from the upper deck went up for air, I went 
below with two guards to search for articles which prisoners 
were said to have concealed for purposes of escape. We had 
not been there for a few moments when the prisoners on deck 
lowered all the ports to prevent us from seeing anything." 
(They had previously torn off the locks on the hatchway, and 
pursued the governor below in a body. Upon this occasion 
nails, chisels, cards and dice were found secreted.) "Two 
such unexpected instances of cool and deliberate insolence, 
■contempt, and mutiny I have never witnessed. I immediately 
applied for a military guard. Those concerned are probably 
the youngest, or those who have least time to serve. 

" January 2nd, 1824. — The conduct of the prisoners has 
been very refractory on board the Dromedary. In one 
instance they pressed so very close on the sentinel, and 
were so very disorderly and in some instances so abusive, 
that he was under the necessity of giving the worst of them 
a stab with his bayonet." Those on deck now tried to 
tear off the hatches, and called upon those below to come 
up and attack the sentry, but without effect. Charles Moore, 
one of the twenty-eight removed from the Dromedary to the 
Etlialion, got into the lower deck after being told off for 
the upper, and refused to quit it when ordered, running 
in among the other prisoners, and hoping they would pro- 
tect him. 


About this time Mr. Kellock wrote to the committee as 
follows : 

'' Gentlemen^ — Since you were pleased to appoint me to 
the governorship of prisoners on board the hospital ships I 
turned my whole attention to the care and management of 
them_, and had, until a few days agO, some faint hopes, with 
some good effect ; but the very recent disorderly conduct of 
the prisonei'S on board the Dromedary has in a great measure 
damped my hopes. ... I have now been ten years among 
men of a similar description, and have always found the 
London prisoners and the younger the worst : they possess 
very bad principles connected with bad habits, and wherever 
they are they are a pest to all with whom they are connected. 
I shall not relax in any part of my duty, and hope to effect the 
aim in my appointment.'" 

Several of the prisoners next day refused to come up on 
deck to get their hammocks down, declaring they were afraid 
of the soldiers. " I went myself,^' says the governor, " accom- 
panied with a number of men ; but they still refused to come 
up and be mustered quietly, complaining still of the soldiers. 
The soldiers were then ordered to stand to their arms ; uj)ou 
which the prisoners gave way. 

^^ January bth. — At 7.30 a.m. the waterman of the Dromedaiy 
was lying alongside in his wherry, and saw the wherry belong- 
ing to the Ethalion drifting past with the tide. Thinking the 
other waterman was in it, he cried out, ' Holloa, Joe, is that 
you ? ' ' AVhist ! Hold your tongue,' said the man in the 
boat; and on closer inspection he proved to be a prisoner, 
Henry Smijick by name, of the Ethalion. The waterman gave 
the alarm, and promptly giving chase captured the fugitive. 
The prisoners had broken open the hatchways and set Smijick 
loose, who got away unperceived. When Smijick was sent 
back the other prisoners again broke open the black holes and 
set him loose, nor would they give him up till a military guard 
had been fetched from the shore. ... I am sorry to say the 
ships are not fitted by any means in a secure way. Men 
determined to escape could very easily at any time make their 


way through the partitions, although I do not conceive they 
are so much bent on escape as on insolence and refractory 

"Wi. — Mr. Parr, master of the Ethalion, reports that 
he is three prisoners short of his muster. At 4 a.m., as 
soon as it was daylight, he saw the waterman's boat on the 
opposite side of the river, a little above the Ethalion. The 
guards relieving at 4 a.m. noticed the boat was gone. Some 
bars were found removed from the after port on the lower 
deck, and through this place the prisoners had doubtless got 
out. Officers were sent at once in search. The opposite 
shore was looked at, as it was possible the men were lying 
up close. The prisoners were, however, traced as far as 
the toll bar; and as they had no money to pay the toll 
they gave the toll keeper a small pen-knife instead of coppers. 
No further tidings being received, a guard named Eichard 
Armstrong, who was well acquainted with, all the places of 
resort for thieves in London, was sent to town in search of the 

" 13th. — Prisoners on board the Ethalion much unsettled 
still, and showing great disposition to attempt further 

" lUh. — The prisoners on board the Dromedary continue 
to be orderly and quiet. ... I am disposed to think 
they have made up their mind to behave themselves well in 
future. ... I attribute it in some measure to the atten- 
tion and advice of the Kev. Dr. Bennett, and themselves being 
employed at school, and the determination I have made in the 
case of any disorder to haA'-e a military guard on board, whom 
the prisoners seem to be afraid of. 

" 17th. — Guard Armstrong returned with prisoner Dicken- 
son, one of those who escaped on the 9th, and who had been 
apprehended at St. Albans.'^ 

On the 23rd the governor reports the prisoners, with some 
few exceptions, to have conducted themselves with some 
degree of order. "I allow them on deck for air and 
exercise, from sunrising to sunset, with the exception 
of one hour for dinner and half-an-hour for breakfast. 
I allow them all the exercise on deck and below which 


tlie nature of their situation will admit of. There is a great 
want of more, to promote health and make them sleep 
and be still at night. I am continually amongst them in 
the day time^ from ship to ship, inquiring into their conduct, 
and adjusting differences when any — and such will, and 
do too often occur, amongst people of such a descrip- 
tion, without employment, well fed, and to all appearance 

'' It has been observed that they wear out or destroy more 
clothes than formerly. 

" 24th. — EKas Thompson behaved in a most mutinous 
and contemptuous manner, cutting up his jacket. On being 
ordered below to fetch it he refused to go. When ordered 
into confinement he made a grab at a warder's watch-chain, 
pulled the watch out of his pocket, and nearly succeeded in 
throwing it overboard. 

" 29th. — At two o'clock p.m., I came out from the cabin, 
and asked for the waterman to get his boat ready to take 
me to the Ethalion. I was told by Richard Armstrong that 
the boat was not alongside. I asked where she was. He 
told me off at the moorings. I desired Samuel McGrill, the 
guard, to call the guard in the jolly-boat, which was on 
shore for the milk, to bring the wherry alongside. When he 
went forward to call for the jolly-boat he saw her coming. 
While he was calling for the boat, Richard Armstrong 
said the boat belonging to the workmen of the dockyard 
had broke adrift. I said to Armstrong, ^Are you sure the 
prisoners have not taken her ? ' I had hardly done speaking, 
when Samuel McGill, guard, called to me and said, ' Look y 
see, there are three prisoners in the dockyard boat, landing.' 
I immediately got a boat passing, and sent after them, and 
ordered all the prisoners to muster, and found three absent ; 
Thomas Nannody, Jabez Pickering, and Robert Hunter." 
Six guards were sent in chase, and within a couple of 
hours two were brought back. This escape occurred entirely 
through the negligence of the guards, one of whom had left 
his post at the time. 

" 29th. — There seems to be an increase of impatience 
amongst the prisoners, both male and female, and they aim 


at stratagem to accomplish wliat they suppose cannot be 
done otherwise ; and there seems to be in them (with every- 
thing that's bad) a disposition to reflect, and very im- 
properly, on their officers and guards ; and always bringing 
forward their past sufferings, and holding out that their im- 
paired constitutions will never be recovered ; and on such they 
ground their hopes of success for mitigation of punishment, or 
to shorten their term of imprisonment. I am aware that 
gratitude is no part of their composition, and that they have 
been and are now very much indulged. 

" Fehruary bth. — At ten o'clock this morning, when pass- 
ing the Ethalion in the wherry, I heard an unusual noise, and 
saw all the prisoners from the lower deck in the gangway on 
the main deck, and saw some rags thrown out of one of the 
lower deck ports ; then saw one of the lower deck ports lowered 
down, and then all, and in another moment all the upper deck. 
... It appeared on inquiry that the officers were searching 
the lower deck, and the prisoners took this means of prevent- 
ing their seeing anything. When the chief culprit was dis- 
covered, and was about to be confined, he assaulted an officer, 
and the others attempted to rescue him.'' . 

On the 6th the governor reports an increase of murmuring 
and dissatisfaction among the prisoners ; and they pretended 
to feel an increase of bowel complaint, which was clearly 
assumed, as was proved by their manner, activity, and general 
appearance. "Their aim is by such means to obtain their 
liberty. I never experienced so much insolence and contempt 
as some of them from time to time evince. . . . The waste of 
clothes is three times more than when in the Penitentiary. 
Caps are lost or thrown overboard in great numbers, clothes 
destroyed by romping on deck and below with one another. 

" \2tli. — So very wicked and wildly disposed are some of 
them at times, that I am under the necessity, when the hatches 
are unlocked, to have the hatch bar and the locks brought up 
to the quarter-deck, as, if left, they would certainly be thrown 
overboard." The bell had to be unhung always, as it was 
within their reach and " in danger of a watery grave." 

" IQth. — On going to the upper deck of the Ethalion, I 
saw a party of prisoners at a table with cards. They were 


well executed (the cards), of writing-paper. I had a wish to 
know what the inside was made of^ and when examined, to my 
astonishment found it was principally of Prayer-books cut to 

"18tJi. — An attempt was made by a body of prisoners to 
rescue Anthony Beacham from the dark cell, and with this in 
view had forced the lock of the hatchway leading there. They 
were discovered in time, and retreated en masse. It was too 
evident that two were the ringleaders, and these they refused 
to give up. Mr. Goodfellow, the master, was desired to go 
down with two guards, and bring them up instantly, still 
without success. All the guards were then armed, and the 
governor himself went down and captured the offenders, 
carrying them off to the dark cells. 

"As soon, as we were gone up, the whole of the deck 
— eighty-five prisoners — behaved in the most mutinous 
manner, and unshipped the ladder to prevent our getting 
into the deck that way. Some part of them broke open 
a part of the hatchway, which prevents communication 
between the upper deck and the after part of the lower 
deck; another part of them made the attempt to break 
down the bulkhead which divides the fore part of the lower 
deck from the after part. They at the same time secured the 
door on the after part of the deck which is intended for the 
guards to go in at in the event of any disorder amongst them. 
During this time I was apprehensive all the decks would be 
thrown into one. I immediately sent to the office of the guards 
at the dockyard for a guard of marines, which came in a few 
minutes. When the guards came they were put in charge of 
the deck, and then we proceeded to force our way with 
our own guards to the lower deck aft. We found no 
access there in the regular way by the hatchway or the door 
aft; the ladder being unshipped and the door secured. I 
ordered a blunderbuss without shot to be fired down the 
hatchway to clear a way, and then made an attempt to ship 
the ladder, but could not, they had got it so well secured ; nor 
could we get into the deck that way. I then had recourse to 
the door aft, and was obliged to use the saw, axe, and crowbar 
before I could force it open, and get into the deck amongst 


them. With the assistance of the officers and guards, I 
selected some of the ringleaders, seven in number, and put 
them into the disorderly ward on bread and water, and ironed 
them on both legs. They continued disorderly. . . . When I 
visited the deck the whole of the prisoners were in a very great 
perspiration from the great exertions they had been making to 
force the bulkheads. 

"20th. — The whole of the prisoners are evidently getting 
better in many respects. They came forward in a body this 
morning on behalf of their fellow-prisoners, acknowledging 
their own improper conduct, and promising to behave better 
in future.^' 

For a time, indeed, the conduct of all improved. They 
were in hopes that they were about to get some remission of 
their sentences, and feared lest misconduct should militate 
against their release. " The whole are in full expectation that 
something will be done for them by Parliament, in consequence 
of their very great sufferings.'^ The tenor of all their letters 
to their friends was to the same effect. They were, however, 
doomed to disappointment ; for on the 14th April, Mr. Kellock 
states : " This morning I received information that the bill for 
the labour and removal of the male convicts under the 
Penitentiary rules, and at present on board the prison ships, 
had received the Royal assent. When informed that they 
were to be removed to labour at the hulks, they received the 
news with some degree of surprise and astonishment." But 
the same day the exodus took place, and they are reported to 
have gone away " very quietly and resigned."' 





No pains were spared to make the Penitentiary sweet and fit 
for re-occupation. A Parliamentary Committee — that great 
panacea for all public ills — had however already reported 
favourably upon the place. They had declared that no case 
of local unhealthiness could be made out against it ; nor had 
they been able to find '''anything in the spot on which the 
Penitentiary is situated^nor in the construction of the building 
itself, nor in the moral and physical treatment of the prisoners 
confined therein^ to injure health or render them peculiarly 
liable to disease.^' 


Yet to guard against all danger of relapse, tliey advised 
that none of the old hands should return to the prison, and 
recommended also certain external and internal improvements. 
Better ventilation was needed ; to obtain this they called in 
Sir Humphrey Davy, and gave him carte blanche to carry out 
any alterations. Complete fumigation was also necessary; 
and this was effected with chlorine, under the supervision of a 
Mr. Faraday from the Hoyal Institution. To render innocuous 
the dirty ditch of stagnant water — dignified with the name of 
moat — which surrounded the buildings just within the 
boundary wall, it was connected with the Thames and its 
tides. Additional stoves were placed in the several pentagons, 
and the dietary reorganised on a full and nutritive scale, in 
quality and quantity equal to that in force before the epidemic. 
Provision was also made to secure plenty of hard labour 
exercise for the prisoners daily, by increasing the number of 
crank mills and water machines in the yards. More schooling 
was also recommended, as a profitable method of employing 
hours otherwise lost, and breaking in on the monotony and 
dreariness of the long dark nights. The cells, the committee 
thought too, should be lighted with candles, and books supplied 
" of a kind to combine rational amusement with moral and 
religious instruction." Indeed there was no limit to the bene- 
volence of these commissioners. Adverting to the testimony 
of the medical men they had examined, who were agreed that 
cheerfulness and innocent recreation were conducive to health, 
they submitted for consideration, whether some kind of games 
or sports might not be permitted in the prison during a portion 
of the day. Fives-courts and skittle-alleys were probably in 
their minds, with cricket in the garden, or football during the 
winter weather. As one reads all this, one is tempted to ask 
whether the objects of so much tender solicitude were really 
convicted felons sentenced to imprisonment for serious crimes. 
Thus comfortably lodged and warmly clad, fed with so much 
wasteful luxury that daintiness soon supervened, their every 
want thus tenderly forestalled — the condition, but for one 
drawback, of these rogues was far superior to that of soldiers 
or sailors, or the honest poor who had done no wrong; that 
drawback was the loss of liberty, yet many would have 


clieerfully sacrificed it for the ease and comfort of the 

It must not, however, he forgotten that the inmates of 
Millbank were people specially selected as capable*of refor- 
mation. Whatever we may have come to think of the efficacy 
of the power of persuasion to reform the criminal classes, it 
was thoroughly believed in then. A modern writer who has 
had much experience, says it is easier to tame a wolf into a 
house dog, than make a thief into an honest man.* They 
were more hopeful at the beginning of this century ; probably 
because the experiment was still new, and barely tried. It 
was confidently expected then, that a year or two in Millbank 
would cure the most confirmed criminal. Of the realisation 
of such hopes, or their failure, I shall have to speak in a later 
chapter. To give the system of the Penitentiary, then, every 
chance of success, the most hopeful material only was com- 
mitted to it, drawn from the following classes: 1. Young 
persons; 2. Adults of both sexes convicted of first offences ; 
3. Persons '^ who from early habits and good character, or 
from having friends or relations to receive them at their dis- 
charge, afford reasonable hope of their being restored to society 
corrected and reclaimed by the punishment they had under- 
gone." What kind of punishment it was, and how these 
precious subjects bore it, we shall soon have abundant oppor- 
tunity of observing. 

The rule of Governor Chapman was essentially considerate 
and mild. There was no limit to his long-suffering and 
patience. Though by all the habits of his early life he must 
have learnt to look at breaches of discipline with no lenient 
eye, we shall find that he never punished even the most 
insubordinate and contumacious of the ruffians committed to 
his charge till he had first exhausted every method of exhor- 
tation or reproof; and when he had punished he was ever 
ready to forgive, on a promise of future amendment, or even a 
mere hypocritical expression of contrition alone. It is now 
generally admitted that felons cooped up within four walls can 
be kept in bounds only under an iron hand. Captain Chapman 
acted otherwise ; the committee which controlled him fully 
* Convicts. By a Practical Hand. 


endorsing liis views. For a long time to come the prison was 
like a bear garden ; misconduct was rife in every shape and 
form, increasing daily in virulence, till at length, the place 
might have been likened to Pandemonium let loose. Then 
more stringent measures were enforced, with satisfactory 
results, as we shall see; but for many years there was 
that continuous warfare between ruffianism and constituted 
authority which is inevitable when the latter is tinged with 
weakness or irresolution. 

Feigned suicides were among the earliest methods of 
annoyance. It is not easy to explain exactly what end 
the prisoners had in view, but doubtless they hoped to 
enlist the sympathies of their kind-hearted guardians, by 
exhibiting a recklessness of life. Those who preferred death 
to continued imprisonment must indeed be miserably 
unhappy, calling for increased tenderness and anxious 
attention. They must be talked to, petted, patted on the 
back, and taken into the infirmary, to be regaled with 
dainties, and suffered to lie there in idleness for weeks. 
So whenever any prisoner was thwarted or out of temper, 
often indeed without rhyme or reason, and whenever the 
fancy seized him, he tied himself up at once to his loom, or 
laid hands upon his throat with his dinner-knife or a bit 
of broken glass. Of course their last idea was to succeed. 
They took the greatest pains to ensure their own safety, and 
these were often ludicrously apparent; but now and then, 
though rarely, they failed of their object, and the wretched 
victim suffered by mistake. Happily the actually fatal cases 
were few and far between. 

This fashion of attempting suicide was led by a certain 
William Major, who arrived from Newgate on the 8th 
October, 1824. A few days afterwards he confided to 
the surgeon that he was determined to make away with 
himself ; " that, or murder some one here ; for Pd sooner 
be hanged like a dog than stay in the Penitentiary." Such 
terrible desperation called of course for immediate expostu- 
lation, and Captain Chapman proceeded at once to Major's 
cell. The prisoner's knife and scissors were first removed ; 
then the governor spoke to him. Major replied sullenly ; 


adding, '*^IVe made up my mind: I'd do anything to get 
out of this place ; kill myself or you. I'd sooner go to the 
gallows than stay here." '' I reasoned with him/' says Cap- 
tain Chapman in his Journal, " for a length of time on the 
wickedness of such shocking expressions ; telling him there 
was only one way of shortening his time, and that was by 
good conduct. I told him his threats were those of a silly 
lad, which I should however punish him for." So Major 
was carried off to a dark cell, but not before the governor 
had said all he could "think of, to reason him out of his 
evil frame of mind." He remained in the dark two days, 
and then, having expressed himself penitent and promising 
faithfully better behaviour, he was released. For three 
weeks nothing further occurred, and then, " Suddenly," says 
the governor, " as I was passing through a neighbouring 
ward, a turnkey called to me, ' Here, here, governor ! bring 
a knife. Major has hanged himself.' " He had made himself 
fast to the cross-beam of his loom. The action of his 
heart had not however ceased, though the circulation was 
languid and his extremities cold. He was removed at 
once to the infirmary, and as soon as animation was 
restored, the governor returned to the prisoner's cell, and 
then found that " the hammock lashing was made fast in 
two places to the cross beam from the loom to the wall; 
in one was a long loop, in which Major had placed his feet ; 
in the other a noose, as far distant from the loop as the 
length of the beam would permit, in which he had put his 
head ; a portion of the rope between noose and loop he had 
held in his hand." It was quite clear, therefore, that he 
had no determined intention of committing suicide; besides 
which he had chosen his time just as the turnkey was about 
to visit him, and he had eaten his supper, " which," says the 
governor, "was no indication of despair." Major soon 
recovered, and pretended to be sincerely ashamed of his 
wicked behaviour. 

Not long afterwards a man, Combe, in the refractory cell, 
tries to hang himself with a pockethandkerchief. Placing his 
bedstead against the wall, he had used it as a ladder to climb 
up to the grating of the ventilator in the ceiling of his cell. 


To this lie had made fast the handkerchief, then dropped ; 
but he was found standing calmly by the bed, with the noose 
not even tight. Next a woman, Catherine Roper, tries the 
same trick, and is found lying full length on the floor. She 
was found to be quite uninjured too. Next, however, comes a 
real affair; and from the hour at which the act is perpe- 
trated all doubt of intention is unhappily impossible. Lewis 
Abrahams, a gloomy, ill-tempered man, is punished for 
breaking a fly-shuttle; again for calling his warder a liar. 
That night he hangs himself. He is found quite dead and 
cold, partly extended on the stone floor, and partly reclining 
as it were against the cell wall. He had suspended himself 
by the slight nettles (small cords) of his hammock, which had 
broken by his weight. The prisoner in the next cell reported 
that between one and two in the morning he had heard a 
noise of some one kicking against the wall ; and then no doubt 
the deed was done. 

After this unhappy example attempts rapidly multiplied, 
though happily none were otherwise than feigned. One tries 
the iron grating and a piece of cord ; another uses his cell 
block as a drop, but is careful to retain the halter in his 
hands ; a third, Moses Josephs, tries to cut his throat, but on 
examination nothing but a slight reddish scratch is found, 
which the doctor was convinced was done by the back of the 
knife. In all these cases immediate and anxious attention is 
given by all the ofiicials of the Penitentiary. The governor 
himself, who never gave himself an hour^s relaxation, and 
was always close at hand, was generally the first on the scene 
of suicide. If there was but a hint of anything wrong he was 
ready to spend hours with the intending /eZo-cZe-se. Thus in 
Metzer's — a fresh case : a man who would not eat, was idle 
too, morose and sullen, " though spoken to always in the 
kindest manner.-"^ No sooner was it known that he was 
brooding over the length of his confinement — his was a life 
sentence — and had hinted at suicide, than the governor spent 
hours with him in exhortation. Metzer, being a weaver by 
trade, had been placed in a cell furnished with a loom ; from 
this he was to be changed immediately to another, lest the 
beam should be a temptation to him ; but the governor, being 


uneasy, first visited him again, and found him, though late at 
night, in his clothes perambulating his cell. On this his 
neighbour was set to watch him for the rest of the night, and 
the doctor gave him a composing (draught. Next morning, 
when they told him he was to leave his cell for good, he 
became outrageously violent, and assaulted every one around. 
He was now taken forcibly to the infirmary, and put in a 
strait-waistcoat ; whereupon he grew calmer and promised to 
go to his new cell, provided he was allowed to take his own 
l^mmock with him. It struck the governor at once that 
something might be concealed in it, and it was searched 
minutely. Inside the bedclothes they found a couple of yards 
of hammock lashing, one end of which was made into a noose, 
" leaving,'^ the governor remarks, " little doubt of his 

But to meet and frustrate these repeated attempts at 
suicide were by no means the governor's only trials. The 
misconduct of many other prisoners must have made his life a 
burthen to him. Thefts were frequent; these fellows' fingers 
itched to lay their hands on all that came in their way. The 
tower wardsman — a prisoner in a place of trust — steals his 
warder's rations ; others filch knives, metal buttons, bath 
brick, and food from one another. Then there was much 
wasteful destruction of materials, with idleness and careless- 
ness at the looms, aggravated often by the misappropriation of 
time by the manufacture of trumpery articles for their own 
wear ; one makes himself a pair of green gaiters, another a 
pair of cloth shoes, a third an imitation watch of curled hair, 
rolled into a ball, which hangs in his fob by a strip of calico 
for guard. 

These were doubtless offences of a trivial character. The 
anxiety evinced by many to escape from durance was a much 
more serious affair. I shall have occasion further on to 
recount more than one instance of the surprising ingenuity 
and unwearied patience with which prisoners sought to 
compass this, the great aim and object of all who are not free. 
As yet, however, the efforts made were tentative only and 
incomplete. To break a hole in the wall, or manufacture false 
keys, was the highest flight of their inventive genius, and the 


plot seldom went very far. One of tlie first cases was dis- 
covered quite by chance. On searching a prisoner's cell^ some 
screws, a few nails, and two pieces of thick iron wire were 
found concealed in his loom ; and in one of his shoes as it 
hung upon the wall, a piece of lead shaped so as to correspond 
with the wards of a cell key. This the prisoner confessed he 
had made with his knife from memory, and altogether without 
a pattern. " I have a very nice eje," ' he said, " and I have 
always carefully observed the keys as I saw them in the 
officers' hands." " And what did you mean to do with the 
key ? " he was further asked. " To get away, of course." 
" How ? " "I can open the wooden door when I please, and 
then I should have unlocked my gate."* On examination a 
hole was found in his door, just below the bolt and opposite 
the handle ; through this, by means of a narrow piece of wood, 
a knitting needle in fact, he could move back the bolt when- 
ever he pleased. Once out in the ward, he meant, with a file 
he had also secreted, to get through the bars of the passage 
window. The wards of this key were fastened into a wooden 
handle, which was also found in his cell. Another prisoner, 
having been allowed to possess himself of a large spike nail, 
which had been negligently left about in the yard, worked all 
night at the wall of his cell, and soon succeeded in removing 
several bricks. The hole he made was large enough to allow 
him passage. Besides this, from the military great coats, on 
which he was stitching during the day, he had made himself 
a coat and trousers. He might have actually got away 
had not a warder visited his cell to inspect his work, and 
taking up the great coats as they lay in a heap in the corner, 
discovered the disguise beneath, also the spike nail, and the 
rubbish of bricks and mortar from the hole. More adven- 
turous still, a third prisoner proposed to escape by stealing 
his warder's keys. Failing an opportunity, he too turned his 
attention to making false ones ; and for the purpose cut up 
with scissors his pewter drinking can into bits. By holding 
the pieces near the hot irons he used for his tailoring, he 

* Every cell at Millbank has two doors; one of wood, next the 
prisoner, the other a heavy iron trellis gate. The former is closed by a 
running bolt; the gate has a double lock. 



melted the metal and ran it into a mould of bread. In- 
formation of this project was given by another prisoner in 
time to nip it in the bud. Another, again, had been clever 
enough to remove a number of bricks, and would have passed 
undetected, had not the governor by chance, when in his cell, 
touched the wall and found it damp. A closer inspection 
showed that the mortar around the bricks had been picked 
out, and the joints filled in by a mixture of pounded mortar 
and chewed bread. On the outside was laid a coating of 
whiting, such as was issued to the prisoners to help them in 
cleaning their cans. 

In some mischief of this kind, one or other of the prisoners 
was perpetually engaged. Cutting up their sheets to fabri- 
cate disguises ; melting the metal buttons, as the man just 
mentioned had melted his pewter can; laying hold of files, 
rasps, old nails, scissors, tin, copper wire, or whatever else 
came handy ; and working always with so much secrecy and 
despatch, that their plans were discovered more by fortune 
generally, than good management. In those days the best 
methods of prison discipline were far from matured. We 
know now that the surest preventives against escape are 
repeated and unexpected searchings, with continuous vigilant 
supervision. A prisoner to carry out his schemes must have 
leisure, and must be left to himself to work unperceived. By 
the practice of the Penitentiary, prisoners had every facility 
to escape ; and we shall find ere long, that they knew how to 
make the most of their advantages. For the present, all the 
good luck was on the side of the gaolers. 

But at this juncture a new trouble threatened all the 
peace and comfort of the place. The prisoners seem to have 
grown all at once alive to the power they possessed of com- 
bination. It had been suspected for some time that a 
conspiracy was in progress among the denizens of D Ward,. 
Pentagon 2, and a minute search of the several cells brought 
to light a number of clandestine communications. These,, 
written mostly on the blank pages of Prayer-books, and spare 
copy-book leaves, were all to the same effect : exhortations to 
riot and mutiny. A certain George Vigors was the prime 
mover ; all the letters, which were very widely disseminated. 


having issued fi-om his pen. It had long been openly dis- 
cussed among the prisoners that the hulks were pleasanter 
places than the Penitentiary. Here^ then, was an opportunity 
of remoral. All who joined heartily in the projected com- 
motion would draw upon themselves the ire of the committee, 
and would certainly be drafted to the hulks. 

To explain what might otherwise appear unintelligible, it 
must be mentioned here, that the punishment implied by a 
sentence to the hulks was by no means of a terrifying 
character. A year or two later, the report of the Parlia- 
mentary Committee on Secondary Punishments* laid bare the 
system, and expressed their unqualified disapprobation of the 
whole treatment of convicts on board the hulks. It being 
accepted that the separation of criminals, and their severe 
punishment, are necessary to make crime a terror to the evil 
doer, the committee pointed out that in both these respects 
the system of management of the hulks was not only neces- 
sarily deficient, but actually inimical. " AJl that has been 
said of the miserable effects of the association of criminals in 
the prisons on shore, the profaneness, the vice, the demorali- 
sation that are its inevitable consequences, applies in the 
fullest sense " to the hulks. The numbers in each ship vary 
from eighty to eight hundred. The ships are divided into 
wards of from twelve to thirty persons ; in these they are 
confined when not at labour in the dockyard, and the evil 
consequences of such associations may easily be conceived, 
even were the strictest discipline enforced. But this was far 
from being the case. " The convicts after being shut up for 
the night are allowed to have lights between decks, in some 
ships as late as ten o'clock ; although against the rules of the 
establishment, they are permitted the use of musical instru- 
ments ; flash songs, dancing, fighting, and gaming take place ; 
the old offenders are in the habit of robbing the new comers ; 
newspapers and improper books are clandestinely introduced ; 
a communication is frequently kept up with their old associates 
on shore ; and occasionally spirits are introduced on board. 
It is true that the greater part of these practices are against 
the rules of the establishment ; but their existence in defiance 
* 1832. 


o£ such rules shows an inherent defect in the system. But the 
indulgence of purchasing tea, bread, tobacco, etc., is allowed, 
the latter with a view to the health of the prisoners ; the 
convicts are also allowed to receive visits from their friends, 
and during the time they remain, are excused working, some- 
times for several days. Such communications can only have 
the worst effect. It is an improper indulgence to people in 
the position of a convict, and keeps up a dangerous and im- 
proper intercourse with old companions. The most assiduous 
attention on the part of the ministers of religion would be 
insufficient to stem the torrent of corruption flowing from 
these various and abundant sources ; and but little attention 
is paid to the promotion of religious feelings, or to the im- 
provements of the morals of the convicts." It was plainly 
seen that the convicts were also allowed to earn too much 
money — threepence a day to convicts in the first class, three 
halfpence to second; out of which the first got sixpence a 
week, and the latter threepence, to lay out in the purchase of 
tea, tobacco, etc., and the remainder was laid by to be given 
to them on their release. They were supposed to work during 
the day at the arsenals and dockyards, " but there was 
nothing in the nature or severity of their employment which 
deserves the name of punishment or hard labour." The work 
lasted from eight to ten hours, according to season ; but so 
much time was lost in musters, and going to and from labour, 
that the summer period was only eight hours and three 
quarters, and winter six and a half. As common labourers 
work ten hours, and when at task work or during harvest 
much longer, the convicts could hardly be said to do 
more than was just sufficient to keep them in health and 
exercise ; indeed, their situation " cannot be considered penal ; 
it is a state of restriction, but hardly of punishment." 

Thus the committee described that the criminal sentenced 
to transportation for crimes to which the law affixes the 
penalty of death, passed his time, well fed, well clothed, 
indulging in riotous enjoyment by night, with moderate 
labour by day. No wonder that confinement on the hulks 
failed to excite a proper feeling of terror in the minds of 
those likely to come under its operation. The hulks were 


indeed not dreaded ; prisoners describe their life in them as a 
'^pretty jolly life/' If any convict could but overcome the 
sense of shame which the degradation of his position might 
evoke, he would feel himself to be better off than large 
numbers of the working-classes, who have nothing but their 
daily labour to depend on for subsistence. At the dockyards, 
among the free men the situation of a convict was looked 
upon with envy; and ''many labourers would be glad to 
change places with him, and would be much better off than 
they were before.'^ * 

It was not strange, then, that the discontented denizens 
of the Penitentiary found even the moderate rigour of that 
establishment too irksome, and that they were eager to be 
transferred to the hulks. 

Towards the end of Septembex', 1826, came the first indi- 
cations of disturbance. A prisoner having smashed his 
bedstead, demolishes also the iron grating to his window, and 
thrust through it his handkerchief, tied to a stick, shouting 
and hallooing the while loud enough to be heard in Surrey. 
The same day, Hussey, another notorious offender, returning 
from confinement in the dark, is given a pail of water to wash 
his cell out, but instead, discharges the whole contents over 
his warder's head. Before he could be secured he had 
destroyed everything in his cell, and had thrown the pieces 
out of the window. Next, a number of prisoners during the 
night take to rolling their cell-blocks and rattling their tables 
about. By this time the dark cells have many occupants, who 
spend the night in singing, dancing, and shouting to each other. 

Eai'ly next morning, about 5 a.m., in this same ward from 
which all the rioters came, Stephen Harman breaks everything 
he can lay hands on — the window-frame and all its panes of 
glass, his cell table, stool, shelf, trencher, salt-box, spoon, 
drinking-cup, and all his cell furniture. He had first barri- 
caded his door, and could not be secured till all the mischief 
was done. Later in the day from another cell comes a long 
low whistle, followed by the crash of broken glass. The 
culprit hei-e, when seized, confessed he had been persuaded by 
others ; all were to join after dinner, the whistle being the 
* Evidence of Mr. Long, master shipwright of Woolwich dockyard. 


signal to commence. The governor is now really appre- 
hensive, anticipating something of a serious nature. He has 
a strong force of spare warders and patrols posted in the 
tower of the pentagon; but though the whistle* is frequently 
heard during the night, nothing occurs further till next day, 
at half-past eight, when George Vigors and another follow 
Harman's lead and destroy everything in their cells. They 
join their companions in the dark cells, all of whom, being 
outrageously violent, are now in handcuffs. In the dark they 
continued their misconduct; using the most shocking and 
revolting language to all officials who approach them ; assault- 
ing them, deluging them with dirty water, resolutely refusing 
to give up their beds, and breaking locks, door panels, and 
windows, though they were restrained in irons, as we know. 
These handcuffs having failed to produce any salutary effect, 
they were now removed ; though several of the prisoners did 
not wait for that, and had ridded themselves of their bracelets. 
For the next few days 'Hhe Dark,^' as these underground 
cells were styled in official language, continued to be the scene 
of the most unseemly uproar. When Archdeacon Potts, one 
of the committee, visited it he was received with hoots and 
yells ; and this noise was kept up incessantly day and night. 
But at length, after nearly a fortnight of close confinement, 
the strength of the rioters broke down, and several of them 
were removed to hospital, while the others went back to their 
cells. Bat there was no lack of reinforcements : fresh 
offenders took up the game, and the dark cells were con- 
tinually full. As soon as those first punished were sufficiently 
recovered they broke out again. The cases of misconduct 
being generally of the same description, varied now and then 
by a plot to break the water-mill by whirling round the 
cranks too fast, continuous noise, insolence, dancing defiantly 
the double shuffle, attempts to incite a whole ward, when in 
the corridor at school, to rise against their warders, overpower 
them, and take possession of their keys. 

Throughout the long nights of the dreary winter months 
these disturbances continued. A time of the utmost anxiety 
and annoyance to worthy Captain Chapman, who was in- 
variably the foremost in the fray. Nothing can exceed the 
* Known as the " thieves' wliistle." 


pluck and energy with wliicli he tackled the most truculent. 
When a prisoner, mad with rage, dares any man to enter his 
cell, it is Governor Chapman who always enters without a 
moment's hesitation; when another, armed with a sleeve- 
board,* threatens to dash out everybody's brains, it is Captain 
Chapman who secures the weapon of offence ; when a body of 
prisoners on the mill break out into open mutiny, and the 
warder in charge is in terror for his personal safety, it is 
Governor Chapman who repairs at once to the spot and collars 
the ringleaders. Perhaps it would have been better if so 
much resolute courage had not been tempered with too much 
kindness of heart. No one can read of Captain Chapman's 
proceedings without admitting that he was brave ; but for his 
particular duties he was undoubtedly also amiable to a 
fault. Had he been more unrelenting it is probable that the 
worst offenders would never have gone such lengths in their 
insubordination. A word or two of contrition, often the 
merest sham, was sufficient generally to secure his pardon. 
Thus when a man has worked himself into a fury and appears 
ready for any act of desperation, the mere appearance of the 
governor calms him, and the prisoner, softened, says, " You, 
sir, use me much better than I deserve. jPut me in the dark." 
" I left him," says Captain Chapman, " saying I trusted 
my lenity would have a much better effect than a dark cell. 
I therefore admonished and pardoned him." Had such kind- 
ness been productive of good results no one could have 
questioned its wisdom. But it almost invariably was worse 
than futile, and the recipients of it soon were worse than ever. 
It was in this winter that the superintending committee 
became convinced that the methods of coercion they possessed 
were hardly so stringent as the case required. They report to 
the House of Commonsf that '' there are among the prisoners 
some profligate and turbulent characters for whose outrageous 
conduct the punishments in use under the rules and regulations 
of the Penitentiary are by no means sufficient." They have 
found by experience that " confinement in a dark cell, though 
in most cases a severe and efficacious punishment, operates 
very differently on different persons. It appears to lose much 

* Used in tailoring, 

t Report of the Penitentiary Committee, 1827. 


of its effect from repetition ; it cannot always be carried far 
without the danger of injuring health ; and on some men, as 
well as boys, it has no effect." Many of the ringleaders in the 
disturbances we have just described were subjected to twenty- 
five, twenty-eight, even thirty days of uninterrupted imprison- 
ment in the dark, and certainly with little effect. In view of 
this want of some more salutary punishment the committee 
expressed a wish for power to flog. They wei^e convinced 
that " the framers of the statute under which the Peni- 
tentiary is now governed acted erroneously in omitting the 
power to inflict corporal punishment when they re-enacted 
most of the other provisions of the 19th Geo. III.* And they 
are satisfied that a revival of this power (a power possessed in 
every other criminal prison in this country) would be highly 
advantageous to the management of this prison, provided such 
power were accompanied by regulations adequate to control 
the exercise of it, and to guard against its being abused.^' 

Soon after these lines were in print, and presented to the 
House, it became more than ever apparent that to tame these 
turbulent characters some serious steps must be taken soon. 
Daring the early months of 1827 there had been no cessation 
of misconduct of the kind already described, but the cases 
were mostly isolated, and generally succumbed to treatment. 
But as March began a storm gathered which soon burst like a 
whirlwind on the place. It was heralded by a riot in chapel 
on Sunday, the 3rd March. Previous to the sermon, during 
evening service, a rumbling noise was heard, as if the prisoners 
assembled were stamping in unison with their feet. The 
sound ceased with the singing of the psalm, and recommenced 
during the sermon, and increased in violence. It was discovered 
that the noise was made by the prisoners knocking with their 
fists against the sheet iron that separated the several divisions. 
As the uproar continued to increase to a shameful and alarm- 
ing extent, the governor left the chapel to fetch the patrols, 
and other spare officers, all of whom, with drawn cutlasses, 
were posted near the chapel door. The prisoners were then 
removed to their cells, and, in the presence of this exhibition 
of force, they went quietly enough. The ringleaders were 
* The Act passed to introduce the Penitentiary system. 


afterwards singled out and punished : tlie chief among tliem 
"being a monitor, long remarkable for his piety, who on this 
occasion had distinguished himself by mimicking. the chaplain, 
and commenting in scandalous terms upon the sermon, and 
using slang expressions instead of responses. 

After this, in all parts of the prison there were strong 
symptoms of mutiny. Loud shouts, laughter, and the thieves' 
whistle on every side. For the next few days there is much 
uneasiness; and at length, about midnight on the 8th, the 
governor is roused from his bed. Pentagon 6 is in an uproar. 
As Captain Chapman hurries to the scene he is saluted with 
the crash of glass, interspersed with loud cries of triumph and 
of encouragement. The airing-yard below is strewed with 
fragments ; broken window-frames, fragments of glass, utensils, 
and tables smashed to bits. Two notorious offenders in 
B Ward, Hawkins and John Caswell, are busy at the work 
of destruction, and already everything is in ruins. The 
tumult is so tremendous, so many others contribute their 
shouts, and the thieves' whistle runs so quickly from cell to 
cell, that sleep is impossible to anyone within the boundary 
wall; and presently all officials, chaplain, doctor, manu- 
facturers, and steward, have joined the governor, and are 
helping to quell the disturbance. It is quelled, but hardly has 
the governor got back to bed, at two in the morning, when 
the uproar recommences : the same noise and loud shouts 
from one side of the pentagons of prisoners, inciting each 
other to continue the riot. Next day, from various other wards, 
came reports that a spirit of insubordination is on the 
increase ; and the offenders in the dark, ten in number, are 
violent in the extreme. Again, at midnight, the governor is 
aroused by a tremendous yelling from Pentagon 6, followed by 
the smashing of glass. The offenders were seized at once, 
and, remarks the governor, "from what I could learn, were 
pretty roughly handled by their captors.'^ Daring this night, 
too, " in noise and violence the several prisoners in the dark 
exceeded, if possible, their accustomed mutinous conduct.''^ 
One, by some extraordinary effort, broke the part of his door 
to which the lock was attached, and got it into his cell, 
swearing he would brain the first person who approached him. 


There was mucli answering to and from tlie dark cells, and 
tlie upper storeys of tlie pentagons opposite. There was 
evidently discontent also in other parts of the prison. Those 
prisoners who had no hopes of gaining any remission of their 
sentences, having no inducement to behave well, were on the 
point of insurrection. In addition to these alarms, on the 
night of the 14th it was reported to the governor that the 
prisoners were making their escape from the dark cells. 
*' The noise was so tremendous it could be heard all over the 

And now mysterious documents emanating from the 
prisoners are picked up, containing complaints mostly of the 
treatment they receive, and full of terrible threats. As time 
passed, the worst of these threats found vent in the hanging 
of the infirmary warder's cat. The halter was a strip of 
round towel from behind the door, and a piece of paper was 
ajffixed to it, with these portentous words : 

'^ you see yor Cat is hung And 

you Have Been the corse of it 

for yoor Bad Bavior to Those 

arond you. Dom yor eis, yoo'l 

get pade in yor torn yet.-" 

Next were several closely written sheets, full of inflamma- 
tory matter, which give the authorities so much uneasiness 
that several hundred prisoners are closely examined as to 
their contents. As these letters afford curious evidence of the 
importance prisoners arrogated to themselves, it may be inte- 
resting to publish one in extenso. It was found on the road 
back from chapel. There was no signature to it. 

'' SiE, — Four instances of brutality have occurred in this 
Establishment within the last week ; the which we, as men 
(if we do our duty towards God and man), cannot let escape 
our notice, and hope and trust you will not let them pass 
without taking them into your serious consideration. We 
will take the liberty of putting a few questions to you, which 
we hope you will not be offended at. Who gave Mr. Bulmer 
authority to strike a lad named Quick almost sufficient to have 
broken his arm, indeed so bad that the lad could not lift his 


hand to Ms liead ? and wlio gave Mr. Pilling the same autho- 
rity to smite a lad to the ground, named Caswell, with a ruler, 
the same as a butcher would a Bullock, without him (Caswell) 
making the least resistance ? On Saturday night last there 
was brutal and outrageous doings, Mr. Pilling as desperate as 
ever, assisted by that villian Turner (we cannot give him a 
better term — we wish we could). Who would have thought a 
man could have been so cruel as to lift a poker against a fellow- 
creature ? A ruler, we have heard, was broken into two 
pieces, a thing that is made of the hardest of wood. Was 
there ever, in the annals of treachery and oppression, facta 
more scandalous than these ! No. To hear their cries was 
suflScient to make the blood run cold of any man, if he was 
possessed of the least animal feeling (' For God's sake have 
compassion, and do not quite kill me,' etc., etc.). And we do 
not hesitate to say, had not the wise Creator, that sees and 
hears all, put it into the heart of a man to be there and stop 
them in their bloody actions, homicide would have been com- 
mitted : then God knows what would have been the result. 
We will admit that these men committed themselves in the 
most provoking manner; but still, who are, what are these 
men, that they should take the law into their own hands ? 
You are the person they should have applied to, and we are 
satisfied you would not have given them such authority. 
Many men have committed as bad, or worse crimes than either 
of these, and in less than one minute afterwards have been 
sorry for it. How did these men know but this was the case 
here ? but without speaking to them, as Christians would do, 
knocks them down, as we have stated before, as a Butcher 
would do an Ox — we cannot make a better comparison — Messrs. 
Pilling and Turner in particular. The governor, too, who 
professes to fear God, we think if he would study the great 
and principal commandment, that is, to do to others as he 
would be done unto, it would be much more to his credit ; 
especially, sir, as you and other gentlemen of this establish- 
ment expect when there is a discharge of prisoners (and it is 
to be hoped that soon will be the case) that they will give the 
establishment a good name. They cannot do it, unless there 
is a stop put to such brutal actions; they will most likely 


speak tlie sentiments of their hearts ; they will say they have 
seen some of their fellow-creatures driven like wrecks before 
the rough tide of power till there was no hold left to save 
them from destruction. That will be a pretty thing for the 
public to hear. And, sir, we do not wish to be too severe, 
but unless Pilling and Turner are dismissed from the Estab- 
lishment, and that shortly, we will fight as long as there is a 
drop of blood in us ; for it is evident, many men have expired 
from a much lighter blow than either of those received; 
therefore necessity obliges us — we must do it for our own 
safety ; but depend upon it, sir, it is far from our wish to do 
anything of the kind, for your sake, and for the sake of what 
few good ones we have (and God knows it is but few). There 
is 3 good men in the Pentagon — Messrs. Newstead, Rutter, 
and Hall, and we wish we could speak well of the others — 
but we cannot. 

"N.B. We do not wish to give the last new warder a bad 
name, for we have not seen sufficient of him to speak either 
way, but what little we have seen leads us to believe he is a 
good man. We hope, sir, you will excuse us, but we will ask 
you another question. If you were in Mr. Pilling's situation, 
and a man committed himself, would you not reason with him 
on the base impropriety of what he had done ? We know you 
would. Instead of that, Mr. Pilling takes a delight in aggra- 
vating the cause with a grin, or a jeer of contempt, not only 
before you see him (the prisoner), afterwards the same ; which, 
without the least doubt, makes a man commit acts of violence 
which at other times he would tremble at the idea. We hope, 
sir, you will take this into your worthy and serious considera- 
tion, and by so doing you will greatly oblige, 

" Your obedient humble Servants, 

" Feiends to the Oppkessed." 

But this was only of a piece with the prisoners' attitude 
generally. On another occasion a body of them go to the 
governor's office to remonstrate with him on one of his punish- 
ments. We might as well imagine — to compare great things 
with small — a deputation from the criminal classes waiting on 
a judge to complain of his sentence on a thief. As soon as 


the protesters are ushered in, one says that Davis, the culprit, 
is very sorry for what he has done; another says that he was 
unwell at the time, and the whole unite in hoping the governor 
will let him off. Fortunately the governor is not so weak as 
they fancied. " On my remarking to them — which I did with 
much indignation — their highly improper conduct in pre- 
suming to remonstrate with me in the execution of my duty, 
Boak (one of the three) remarked, that by their rules they 
were to apply to the governor or visitor if they had any 
complaint. To which I answered, ' Most certainly,^ but that 
my confining Timothy Davis could not possibly be any 
grievance to them; and repeated that their presuming to 
dictate to me was of such a reprehensible and insubordinate 
nature that I should confine them in the dark cells." But as 
they were penitent, and promised for the future to mind, their 
own business, they were released the same day. 

Meanwhile, the rioting and destruction proceeded without 
intermission. A frequent device now was for prisoners to 
barricade their cell doors, so as to work the more unin- 
terruptedly. For this purpose the cell blocks or some of the 
fragments from the demolished furniture served ; and, as a 
brilliant idea, one or two prisoners invented the practice of 
filling their keyholes with sand and brick rubbish, or hamper- 
ing the locks with their knives. But in March the riots 
exceeded anything in previous experience. It was prefaced 
by the usual exhibitions of defiance and insubordinate conduct, 
and the uproar as before broke out in the middle of the night. 
A dozen or more of the prisoners dressed themselves, barri- 
caded their doors, and then set to work. By-and-by the 
whole ward was in a tumult. The dark cells were already 
full, and there was no other place of punishment. The shout- 
ing and yelling could not therefore be checked, and continuing 
far into the day excited other prisoners at exercise, so that they 
were on the point of laying violent hands upon their warders. 
One scoundrel took off his cap and tried to cheer on his fellows 
to acts of violence ; and some followed the warder into a 
cornel', swearing they would have his life. The condition of 
the whole prison was now so alarming that the governor, with 
permission o£ the visitor, sought extraneous help. Application 


"was made to tlie Queen^s Square police office for a force of 
constables to assist in maintaining order, and ensuring tlie safe 
custody of the prisoners. As soon as these reinforcements 
arrived they were marched to the airing-yard of Pentagon 5 — 
the scene of the recent riots. 

Here a large body of prisoners were at exercise. The 
governor and the visitor in turn addressed them, pointing out 
" the shame and disrepute they were bringing on themselves 
and the institution by their mutinous conduct." Several in 
reply were most insolent in speech and manner, declaring 
they did not deserve to be treated with suspicion. One 
attacked a warder close at hand with loud abuse, another the 
taskmaster, swearing he was starved to death, and both had 
to be removed. These constables remained on duty during 
the night, and for several weeks to come continued to give 
their assistance. On the return of the prisoners to their 
wards, the governor spent four hours, from 7 to 11 p.m., in 
going patiently from cell to cell, impressing on each man in 
tui'n the necessity for orderly and subordinate conduct. " My 
time and efforts," he says next day, "were, I regret to say, 
quite thrown away, for the noise and shouting continued 
during the night, though not quite to the same extent." 
Nothing very serious, however, happened till 3 p.m. next day, 
when Hickman, a prisoner in the infirmary, began to break 
his windows, and with loud huzzahs endeavoured to incite the 
others (from Pentagon 6) in the yards to "acts of violence 
and insubordination." He was answered by many voices, and 
the tumult soon became general. Meanwhile, the governor 
and the visitor had repaired to Hickman^s cell as soon as 
the smashing of glass was heard, but the man had cunningly 
made fast his door, and could not be interfered with. It 
appeared that he had complained of want of exercise, and 
had accompanied this complaint with so much contrition for 
previous violent conduct, that the surgeon had allowed his 
cell door to be unlocked, so that he might walk when he 
liked in the passage. Directly the officers had gone to dinner 
he got out, and, using his knife which had imprudently been 
left in his possession, hampered the locks at both ends of the 
passage. His next act was to slice into ribbons the whole of 


his bedding and tliat of several cells adjoining his own, which 
were unoccupied and (a grave error) not locked. This busi- 
ness satisfactorily arranged, he began to shout and smash all 
the windows within his reach. Before he could be secured 
he had demolished eighty-two panes of glass and several 
sashes complete. He was found brandishing his broom, and 
offering to fight the lot of his captors, one of whom promptly 
knocked him down, when he was quickly handcuffed and 
carried back to his cell. But the noise he made that night, 
with others, was so great that the governor declares, " I never 
closed my eyes during the night. '^ Night after night the 
misconduct of the prisoners continued, and grew worse and 
worse. Wards hitherto well-behaved became infected. In 
C Ward, Pentagon 6, " they commenced at 4 a.m. shouting 
and bellowing like the rest." The visitor on going to the 
dark is again most grossly insulted and abused. Another 
evening the noise and^ shouting that breaks out is so loud 
that many officers going off duty heard the disturbance 
at the other end of Vauxhall Bridge, and returned to the 

All through the months of April and May the violence of 
the malcontents continued unabated. They had found out 
their strength, no doubt, and laughed at all attempts to coerce 
them. Neither dark cells nor irons exercised the least effect, 
and the only remaining punishment — the lash, the committee 
were not as yet empowered to enforce. It must be confessed 
that one reads with regret that a parcel of unruly scoundrels 
should thus be allowed to make a mockery of the punishment 
to which they were sentenced by the law, and that they should 
be suffered unchecked to set all order and discipline at 
defiance. And all this deliberate insolence and open subordi- 
nation could have but one end. They culminated at length in 
a murderous affray, in which a couple of prisoners fell upon 
the machine- keeper and half killed him. The plot had been 
well laid, and had been brewing for some time. About 7 A.M. 
one morning, while working quietly at the crank, prisoner 
Salmon rushed at Mr. Mullard, the machine-keeper, and 
knocked him off the platform by a tremendous blow, which 
caught him just behind the ear, and cut his head open. 


Crouch, another prisoner, struck Mr. Mullard at the same 
moment. When on the ground he was kicked by Salmon in 
the mouth. No one but the wardsman, another prisoner, came 
to poor Mullard's assistance ; but this man '' acted with great 
spirit, and it was mainly owing to his prompt interference that 
the machine-keeper escaped with his life.'' * 

At the moment the attack was made all the other officers 
were at a distance. One warder said he saw Mr. Mullard fall, 
but thought it was accidental, and that the prisoner Salmon 
had stooped over to pick him up. However, when the other 
prisoners crowded round, shouting, " Give it him ! Give it 
him ! Lay on,-" this warder, perceiving their evil intentions, 
took to his heels — to get assistance, for he afterwards " indig- 
nantly disclaimed all idea of quitting the yard through personal 
apprehension." At the tower he found the taskmaster coming 
out cutlass in hand; Rogan, the warder, got one also, and 
both hurried back to the yard. Smith, the wardsman, was 
fighting with Crouch, and Mr. Mullard, who had got again to 
his feet, with Salmon ; the other prisoners looking on, being, 
as they afterwards asserted, afraid to stir, " particularly after 
seeing the warder, Rogan, run away." f Crouch now came at 
the taskmaster " with fury in his looks ; " upon which the 
latter drew his cutlass and warned him to stand off, and then 
both Crouch and Salmon were secured. There was no doubt 
the greater part of the prisoners were concerned in this 
mutiny, for although Mullard called aloud for assistance, not a 
soul but Smith the wardsman stirred a finger to help him. 
These miscreants were subsequently tried at the Old Bailey, 
and sentenced to increased imprisonment. 

But soon after this the new Act, authorising the com- 
mittee to flog for aggravated misconduct, was passed, and 
then a clearance was made of the worst subjects by sending 
them from the Penitentiary to the hulks. This was really 
yielding to the prisoners. But it gained a certain lull of 
peace within the walls — no slight boon after the disturb- 
ances, and it was hoped that the new powers of punishment 
would check any further outbreak amongst those who 

* " Governor's Journal," vol. vii. f Ibid. 




Haedly had tlie exodus of tlie worst behaved been completed 
before irregularities of an entirely new character appeared. 
An intrigue was discovered to have been in progress for many 
months, between the women in the laundry and certain of the 
male prisoners. This had never gone further than the inter- 
change of correspondence, and its existence is in some respects 
a proof of the laxity of the discipline maintained in the 
Penitentiary. It was customary to make up the clothes of the 
male prisoners sent to the wash in kits, or small parcels, which 
were opened in the laundry by a female prisoner, called the 
"kitter.''^ One day the kitter, by name Margaret Woods, 
found among the clothes a slip of paper — a Prayer-Book leaf 
— on which some man had written that he came from Glasgow, 
and that he hoped the women were all well. Woods not being 
able to read, showed it to another woman, who showed it to 
a third, a Scotch girl, Ann Kinnear, who came also from 
Glasgow. " Yes/' she said, " I know him well. It's John 


Davidson — a very nice young man ; and if you won't answer 
itj I'll write myself." The acquaintance, on paper, soon 
deepened between Eannear and Davidson. One of her tributes 
of affection was a heart, which she worked with gray worsted 
on a flannel bandage belonging to Davidson. At another time 
she sent him a lock of her hair. 

It is easy to understand the flutter throughout the laundry 
caused by this flirtation, which was known and talked of by all 
the women. They were all eager to have correspondents too ; 
having husbands " outside " being no obstacle seemingly ; nor 
was age, for an old woman, with grown-up children, entered 
herself as eagerly as the girls barely in their teens. John 
Davidson was in all cases the channel of communication. He 
promises to do his best for each of his correspondents : to find 
out a nice sweetheart for Mary Ann Thacker, and to tell 
Elizabeth Trenery how fares her friend Combs, with whom she 
had travelled up from Cornwall. He expresses his regret to 
his own friend Kinnear, that he is likely soon to be set at 
large; but that before going he will "turn her over'' to 
another nice young man, in every way similar to himself. 
How long this clandestine intercommunication might have 
continued, it would be difl&cult to say; but at length the 
wardswoman came to know of it, and she instantly reported it 
to the matron. One fine morning the whole of the kits were 
detained, and a general search made in the tower. Several 
letters were discovered. They were written mostly with blue 
ink made of the blue-stone used for washing, and contained 
any quantity of rubbish : questions, answers, gossips, vows 
of unalterable affection, promises to meet " outside " and 
continue their acquaintance. About the same time a letter 
from one of the men was picked up on the chapel stairs. As a 
specimen of this prison correspondence I give it here in extenso. 

-Last AT Chapel. .. j,,,, 17^;,. 

" From the young man that wrote first, to the 
young woman that wrote last. 
" My Deae, — It is with a pleasure produced from a mind 
enduring the bitters of anxious suspense, that I set myself 


•down for tlie purpose of relating to you tlie candid feelings 
I possess at the present liour ; and I hope, my dear, that it 
will find you enjoying the sweets of good health, as thank 
God I am at present : and I must not omit to ask you to be 
as candid with me as possible, without the slightest display of 
deception ; for by this time you must be very well acquainted 
how I stand in present circumstances, and that it is not from 
the pleasure received from our correspondence, that I venture to 
commit myself to yours and your friend's generosity ; but it is 
from the real expectation of being joined to one of you by the 
appointed precept of the Creator, to stick strong and constantly 
to you, and to live an honest and industrious life, endeavour- 
ing to attain felicity in the world to come. So, my dear, if 
you think me not unworthy of your attention; if that your 
heart be disposed to acknowledge a sympathy with mine, con- 
ditionally, that is to say by the blessing of God restored to 
liberty, and becoming a spectator of my person, I myself am 
not so very particular about having a handsome wife, for many 
pretty girls are so sensible of their beauty that it makes their 
manners rather odious ; but, so as you are a tidy looking girl, 
and industriously inclined, with a good disposition, and will 
love me, and me only, you may depend upon it I should 
gladly accept you, and be studious to comfort you all the rest 
of our lives. But if there is any young man, at liberty or 
anywhere else, who is your intended suitor, I beg of you to 
give me a true answer in reply to this. And I hope, my dear, 
that neither you, nor your two companions, show our notes to 
any one; for I know well some women can never keep a 
secret. They acquaint those whom they call their friends of 
their affairs ; who, when friendship ceases, do not fail to let all 
out. This is the only thing I fear, and that causes me to be 
more distant in my expressions than I should otherwise be, for 
I would not have this known for the best 10 pound that ever 
was coined.' ' 

All this of itself would be sufficient proof of the laxity 
that prevailed in the discipline of the Penitentiary. Harm- 
less enough, the reader may say : and such it would have 
been undoubtedly in a boys' school next door to some 

I 2 


seminary for young ladies, in tlie suburbs ; but hardly in 
accordance with, the condition of prisoners, or the seclu- 
sion that was a part of their punishment. And no sooner 
was this intrigue detected, and put an end to, than another of 
similar character was discovered between the male convicts in 
the kitchen and certain maid-servants kept by the superior 
officers. The steward on searching the kitchen drawer of his 
housemaid — it does not appear what led him to ransack the 
hiding-places of his servants' hall — found a letter addressed 
to the girl by the prisoner named Brown. Brown, when taxed 
with it, admitted the letter, but declared that the first over- 
tures had come from the maid. He had been cleaning the 
steward's door-bell, when this forward young person nodded 
to him from the passage, and he nodded back. At the same 
time another prisoner was caught at the same game with the 
female servant of the resident surgeon. On searching the 
prisoner-cooks a letter from the girl was found in this man's 
pocket, and a lock of long hair, neatly plaited. The first- 
mentioned girl had not confined her smiles to Brown, for in 
her possession was another letter from John Eatcliffe, a 
prisoner who had been working in the starching yard close by 
the steward's quarters. Betsy S., the surgeon's second maid^ 
had become also the object of the affections of a prisoner 
named Eoberts, who had thrown a letter to her through the 
open window, But Betsy would not encourage his advances,, 
and took the letter at once to her master. Then the chaplain's 
maid is always at her kitchen window, making signs. 

Nor were these irregularities confined to the male side of 
the prison. The maid-servant of the matron was discovered to- 
have long carried on clandestine communications with one of 
the female prisoners. The gate-keeper at the inner lodge 
caught them in the act. Having heard some one cough and 
hem very loudly in the laundry, he was surprised to find the 
signal answered by the matron's maid. Then he set a watch 
on the latter, and tracked her to the iron grating of the coal- 
hole of the female wash-house. As soon as she appeared a 
hand thrust out a letter through the bars, which the girl snapt 
up quickly and concealed in her dust box. The letter was of 
course captured, and proved to be from a prisoner to her 


fatlier, praying liim to intercede with the chaplain of Newgate 
to obtain a pardon for her. 

The chief lesson to be learnt from these nefarious prac- 
tices is, that it is a grave error to permit officers and their 
families to reside within the walls of a prison. In the old 
constructions the '' gaoler's " house was always placed in the 
very centre of the buildings, from whence he was supposed to 
keep a watchful eye on all around. But the gain was only 
imaginary ; and even if there had been any advantage it 
would have been more than nullified by the introduction of 
the "family," or "unprofessional" element within the walls. 
A prison should be like a fortress in a state of siege : officers 
on duty, guards posted, sentries always on the alert, everyone 
everywhere ready to meet any difficulty or danger that may 
arise. No one should pass the gates but officials actually on 
■duty inside. In this way the modern practice of placing all 
residences and private quarters in close proximity to, but 
outside, the prison is a distinct improvement on the old. By 
it the moral presence of the supreme authority with his staff 
is still maintained, and no such irregularities as those I have 
just described could possibly occur. 

So far I have made but little reference to the female con- 
victs. Indeed, during the first years after the reopening of 
the Penitentiary, except in isolated cases, they appear to have 
conducted themselves quietly enough. But the contagion 
from the male pentagons could not but spread, sooner or later. 
The news of the removal of the worst men to the hulks no 
doubt acted as a direct incitement to misconduct. Had not 
this power of removal been accompanied, in the case of the 
males, with authority to inflict corporal punishment, we should 
have seen a great and continuous increase of the riotous dis- 
turbances described in the last chapter. A certain number 
had gained their ends ; but if those who remained were am- 
bitious to tread the same path, it was possible that sound 
flogging would be tried before removal to the hulks. With 
the women it was different — they could not be flogged, so 
they had it much their own way. It was the same then as 
now : the means of coercion to be employed against females 
are limited in the extreme, and a really bad woman can never 


"be tamed, tliougli she may in time wear herself out by lier 
violence. We shall see more than one instance of the seem- 
ingly indomitable obstinacy and perversity of the female 
character, -when all barriers are down and only vileness and 
depravity remains. 

Long before the women broke out into open defiance of 
authority there were more than rumours that all was not 
right in the female pentagon. " Irregularities are on the in- 
crease there," observes the governor in his Journal. The 
object of the agitation is no secret. The women want to get 
away from the Penitentiary like the men did. One having 
abused a matron in the most insolent terms, swears, if not 
sent at once to the hulks, or abroad, she will have some one's 
life. Another, Nihill, sends for the governor, saying she had 
something particular to confide to him. " Well ? " asked 
Captain Chapman. "You must send me to the hulks or to 
New South Wales." Another woman made the same request,, 
pleading that they had not a friend on earth, and that when 
they were released they must return to their old vicious 
courses*. " I told them," says the governor, " they could only 
be sent to the hulks when they were incorrigible, and to 
qualify for that they must pass months in the dark. Then I 
exhorted them to return to their work and better thoughts." 
But they both at once flatly refused either to work or to 
think better of it, demanding to be sent immediately to the 
dark, a wish which was gratified without further delay. 

It now appears evident that the discipline of the female 
side is far from satisfactory. There has been great remissness 
on the part of the officers. It is discovered, too, among other 
things, that the religious exercises have been greatly neg- 
lected : the reading of the lesson in the morning service in 
the wards has been '' either shamefully slurred over, or neg- 
lected altogether." For this, and other omissions, the visitor 
assembles the matrons in a body, and lectures them in plain 

That very afternoon occurs the first real outbreak. All at 
once the whole of one of the wards is found to be in an 
uproar. The shouts and yells of the women could be heard 
all over the prison, and for a great distance beyond. The- 


disturbance arose in tliis wise : there had been great mis- 
conduct that morning in chapel, but the offenders had eluded, 
as they thought, detection ; when, however, the matron came 
and reprimanded, they concluded that one of their number 
had "rounded" or "put them away," in other words, had 
turned informer. Elizabeth Wheatley was suspected, and 
upon her the whole of her companions fell, tooth and nail, 
when let out for exercise. It was with the utmost difficulty 
she was rescued from their clutches. Then the ringleaders, 
having been again confined to their cells, commenced a 
hideous din and continued it for hours. 

Soon after this a violent attack is made upon the chief 
matron; a woman assaults her, and deals her a blow that 
makes her nose bleed. This is the signal for a general 
disturbance. All the ward join in the uproar; those not under 
lock and key crowd round the matron with frightful yells and 
imprecations, and from those in their cells come shouts through 
the bars, such as, " Give it her ! give it her ! I^d make a 
matron of her, if I was out. Vd have her life." The unfor- 
tunate officer is only saved from serious injury by the prompt 
interposition of the wardswoman, a well-conducted prisoner. 

The excitement now becomes tremendous. Let us take 
a scene enacted in another part of the prison that very 

It is towards dusk in the " Long Eoom," where there were 
beds for nearly forty. 

Half a dozen women here, unattended by a turnkey, are 
discussing the topics of the day. One, Nihill, is lamenting 
in bitter terms the want of pluck exhibited by the others. 
None of the women were "game," she said. She was ready 
to do anything, but none of the others would give her a help- 
ing hand. There were men in the prison, too, who were 
willing and able to join in a mutiny if they only got a lead. 
It might be done in chapel, where the whole of the popula- 
tion of the Penitentiary collected together twice a day for 

At this moment comes a new arrival, bearing the news of 
the murderous assault upon the matron, to which reference 
has been already made. 


"How many were in it?^^ Nihill asked, slie being the 
leading malcontent of those mentioned above. 

" Five." 

"That's three too many. I wish I'd been there. Wait 
till I get my green jacket,* I'll carry a knife, and I'll stick it 
into her" (the matron). 

" She's a brute," adds another, " I'd serve her so too." 

"If two or three well-behaved women were to hit her 
again and again, the gentlemen of the committee would say 
she wasn't respected, and wasn't the prisoners' friend. Then 
they'd send her away, and we'd be quit of her." 

" What's happened now ? " asks a woman, Eoach, who had 
hitherto sat silent. 

" The matron's been struck. Aren't you glad ? " 

" No ; I'm not glad." 

"You're a mean-spirited devil, then — that^s what you 

" And you're a " 

" Well ? what am I ? Yes. Tell me." Nihill was five or 
six yards off, taking the pins out of her dress ; but on this 
provocation, she came forward and prepared to fight. 

" You'd better sti-ike me ; just do it," said Roach. 

" No, you strike me first." 

" Shut up. Roach," interposed another woman. Price by 
name. " You ought to have more sense than to quarrel with 
that child." 

"Child yourself!" replied Nihill, in great indignation. 
" I'm well able to take care of myself, which is more than you 

" You're a regular bull dog, but you shan't bully me," 
said Roach. 

" I tell you you ought to have more sense," Price repeated. 

" Leave me alone. Price ; you are a low blackguard." , 

" I'll blackguard you," cried Price, suddenly seizing the 
poker and rushing at Roach. 

* The dress of women in the second or superior class consisted of 
dark green jacket and stufiE petticoat; the first or lower class wore a 
yellow jacket. 


" Yes/' said Niliill, forming at once an offensive alliance 
■vvitli Price; "you say another word against Price and I'll 
split your skull open." 

" Murder ! murder ! ^' yelled Eoach, running for lier life to 
tlie other end of the room, where she fell upon her bed in 

Tlie other prisoners gave the alarm ; assistance arrived ; 
Nihill and Pi'ice were secured and carried off to the dark cells, 
the former expressing the utmost contempt for Eoach. " Yes," 
she said to the matrons, " you think a lot of Roach, I suppose, 
because she can throw herself into hysterics. But she's not 
the only one. I can, and fits too. My blood's as hot as 

The next affair occurred at school time. A prisoner. 
Smith, was checked by the matron for quarrelling with the 
monitress, whereupon Smith, seizing her stool, swore she 
would make away with the matron. Two other prisoners 
came to the rescue, and, pushing the matron into a cell close 
by, got in with her, and pulled the door to. Smith in a fury 
raced after them, but the cell gate was locked before she 
arrived, and she had to be satisfied with the grossest abuse 
from the further side. But Sara Smith was now mistress of 
the ward, and ranged up and down with uplifted stool, and 
fury in her looks, till the governor, bold Captain Chapman, 
came to the spot with his patrols, and she was, but with some 
difficulty, secured. 

So determined were the women to misconduct themselves, 
that they took in bad pai-t the advice of the few who were 
well-disposed. When one Mary Anne Titchborne begged 
her companions to behave better, they turned at her en masse, 
pursuing her to her cell with horrid threats, brandishing their 
pattens over their heads, and swearing they would have her 
life. But the next feminine feat at first sight appeared more 
extraordinary than any. One of the female prisoners, it was 
declared, had in the night jumped out of her window, on the 
second floor, into the airing yard below, a height of seventeen 
feet ; and the governor, who visited her about 7 a.m., four 
hours after the accident, found her sitting in her cell again, 
quietly at work, and ''with the exception of a sprain, or a 


contusion of the fingers o£ tlie right hand, quite unhurt." 
According to this woman's story, she had got tired of life 
about 30 p.m., and at once threw herself out of her window. 
'^It seems incredible," remarks Captain Chapman, "that she 
could have effected this, as the sash of the window opens 
from the bottom with the hinge, forming thus an acute 
angle — in fact a V — having an aperture atop ten inches 
wide. Not a single pane of glass was broken, and Miller,, 
for all her fall, was unhurt, beyond a scratch or two upon 
her fingers." Miller (the prisoner) further stated that on 
reaching terra firma she was at first quite stunned. By-and- 
by she got up and walked about the yard for several hours ; 
then, finding it cold, she returned to her ward, which she 
accomplished easily, as all the external doors and passage 
gates had been left unlocked. This carelessness with reference 
to "security" locks, as they are called, or the gates that 
interpose between the prisoners and fresh air, might easily 
make the hair of a modern gaoler stand on end ; and even the 
considerate Governor Chapman was forced to reprimand the 
matrons for this gross neglect of duty. But by-and-by Miller 
confesses her fraud. After school at night, she had managed 
to secrete herself in an unoccupied cell. No one misses her ; 
and about 'eleven, coming out, she commences to wander up 
and down the ward, going from cell to cell knocking. " Who's 
there ? " " Miller." " Where have you come from ? " "1 
have jumped out of the window, and got through the gates, 
which were left open," " Go back to your cell, for goodness' 
sake." " I can't get in, the door is locked." " Call up the 
mati'on then." " I daren't." Such was the conversation over- 
heard by others. But about 3 a.m. Miller could stand it no 
longer, and woke the matron of the ward. 

One other case of misconduct among the females must be 
mentioned here, and then we will for the present leave them. 
Some months afterwards a conspiracy was discovered which at 
first sight seemed of rather serious dimensions. Its apparent 
object was to murder the chaplain, the matron, and a female 
ofiicer named Bateman, all of whom had incurred the rancour 
of certain of the worst prisoners. One day in chapel an officer 
noticed much nudging and winking between two or three of 


the women, one of whom afterwards came up to lier, as sTie 
stood by the altar rails, and said, "There's a conspiracy 
going on." 

" Where ? " asked the matron. 

" In a bag." 

"A bag? Who's got it?" 


And in effect, upon Jones is found a bag of white linen, 
six inches by four, and inside it a strip of bright yellow serge, 
such as the "first-class" women wore. On this yellow ground 
was worked in black letters, as a sampler might be, the 
following : — 

" Stab balling (bawling) Bateman, dam matron too, and 
parson ; no justis now, may they brile in hell and their f avrits 
too. God bless the governor; but this makes us devils. 
Shan't care what we do — 20 of us sworn to drink and theve 
in spite — get a place — rob and bolt. Make others pay for this. 
Shan^t fear any prison or hel after this. Can't suffer more. 
Some of us meen to gulp the sakrimint, good blind : they 
swear they'll burk the matron when they get out, and throw 
her in the river. No justis. Destroy this. No fear. All 
swer to die ; but don't split, be firm, stic to yor othe, and all 
of ye, stab them all. Watch yor time — stab am to the hart 
in chaple; get round them and they can't tell who we mean 
to stab.'^ 

This bag was akin somewhat to the mysterious chu])- 
jpaties, which were the forerunner of the Indian Mutiny. 
It was passed from hand to hand, each prisoner opening, 
reading, and then sending it on. Jones, on whom it was 
found, declared she had picked it up in the passage. She 
was lame, and returning from exercise had put her crutch 
on something soft, "Why, here is some one's swag," she 
cried, and thereupon became possessed of it. But she had 
intended to give it up to the matron; "Oh yes, directly she 
had read it." However, another prisoner forestalled her, and 
Jones gets into trouble. Then, with the instinct of self-pre- 
servation, which is stronger, perhaps, among prisoners than in 
other human beings, Jones " rounds " at once, in other words, 
gives full information of the plot. Hatred to the matron was- 


at the bottom o£ it. " She is a devilish bad one/' said a 
prisoner, one day in public. "There's no justice in her re- 
ligion. Pity she hasn't some one here to serve her as Matron 
Palmer was served.^' 

'' What d'ye say, Jane ? " 

"Ah! there's none of them staunch ones in here now. 
There's only you, and Cooper, and me, that's worth a pinch.'' 

"But what did they do to Matron Palmer?'' 

" Why, they beat her, and knocked her cap off at school. 
I'd like to frighten this one too, now." 

" Well, send her a letter." 

"A letter? when there's no paper, no ink, no nuffink?" 

" You can work a sampler — work the letters on a strip of 
cloth. You're a quick marker. Why, they say you covered 
a handkerchief with writing in a week." 

" ril do it ; but what shall I say ? " 

" Everything that's bad — but say, ' God bless the old 
governor.' " 

" Suppose we should be found out ? " 

" Pouf — found out ! It can't be found out among so 
many. We'll drop it in chapel." 

And with this beginning, the great conspiracy grew to 
the dimensions we have seen it. It was of a piece with many 
such plots in modern experience — mere empty threats and 
rank bombastic talk. Prisoners are very fond of bragging 
what they mean to do, both inside and when again free. In 
the present case there was supposed to be much more in 
store for the matron than the actual assault with which they 
threatened her. One of the conspirators swore that if she 
(the matron) escaped now, later on vengeance should over- 
take her. "As soon as I am free I'll do for that cat of 
destruction. I'll send her first a dead dog with a rope round 
its neck, made up into a parcel. That'll frighten her. Curse 
her, I'll give her a bitter pill yet. If it's ten years hence, I'll 
never forget her. I'll watch her, and track her outside ; and 
I have friends of the right sort that'll help me." But 
threatened men and women live long, and nothing much 
happened to the matron then or afterwards. 

Let us now return to the male side. Here the worries and 


annoyances of the governor were still varied and continuous. 
Hardly had misconduct in one shape succumbed to treatment, 
than it broke out in another. Many attempts to escape — one 
o£ which, to be detailed hereafter, went very near complete 
success ; a couple of very serious assaults, a fresh suicidal 
epidemic, still kept his energies f ally on the stretch. It was 
his practice, as we know, to give his immediate attention to 
anything and everything, directly it occurred ; and although 
he must by this time have been alive to the preponderance of 
imposture in the attempts prisoners made upon their own 
lives, still so kind-hearted a man could not but be greatly 
exercised in spirit, whenever the suicides seemed hona fide 
and real. 

Here is a case which called at once for his most anxious 
interference. One Thomas Edwards was reported to have it 
in contemplation to do himself a mischief. Another prisoner 
detected him in the act of concealing a piece of hammock 
lashing in his bosom, gave information, and the halter was 
seized at" once by the officer in charge. It was found to be 
nearly two yards in length. In Edwards' pocket was also a 
letter, an old letter from his brother, across which in red chalk 
was written the following : — 

" To Captain Chapman. The last request of an innocent 
and injured man is, that this note may be delivered to a much 
loved brother. 

" I can no longer bear my unfortunate situation. Death 
will be a relief to me, though I fain would have seen you once 
more; but I was fearful it might heighten your grief. The 
privations of cold and hunger, I can no more suffer. I now 
bid you an eternal farewell. God forgive me for the rash act 
I am about to commit — the hour is fast approaching when I 
must leave this troublesome world. Write to my dear sister, 
but never let her know the truth of my end, and comfort her 
as well as you can, God forgive me. 

" Farewell for ever, 

" Farewell." 

"1 immediately sent for Edwards," says Captain Chapman 


in his Journal. " He appeared mucli distressed. The tears 
rolled down his cheeks^ but he would not speak. I said every- 
thing I could think of to soothe and console him, and had him 
taken by the surgeon to the infirmary." The case seemed to 
require full investigation, which it received ; and the result is 
recorded a little further on by the governor. " It appeared 
that up to three or four days before he had been remarkably 
cheerful. But one day some extra soup had disagreed with 
him, after which he hardly spoke^ not even to his partner with 
whom he walked in the yard.^' Then, when he thought he 
was unobserved, he had secreted the hammock lashing which 
was to put an end to his wretched existence. 

Bile or indigestion have doubtless driven many to despera- 
tion ; but though the saying is common enough, that life 
under such afflictions is barely worth having, actual cases of 
suicide from stomachic derangements are comparatively rare. 
Perhaps the soup story opened the governor's eyes a little to 
the prisoner's real character, and then, later on, a second 
detection of fraud proved beyond doubt that Edwards was 
an impostor. 

He is caught in a clandestine correspondence with his 
relatives outside, and for this he is transferred to " the dark." 
Fifteen minutes afterwards they find him suspended from the 
top of his cell gate by his pocket-handkerchief. They cut him 
down at once. He pretends to be unable to speak, yet it is 
clear that he has not done himself the slightest injury. 
Nevertheless, to keep him out of mischief, he is removed to 
the infirmary and put into a strait jacket. To escape from 
this restraint he embarks upon a new line of imposture. He 
sends an urgent message to the chaplain, having, as he asserts, 
a weighty sin upon his conscience, which he wishes at once to 

" Some four years ago, sir, I murdered a young woman. 
She was the one I kept company with. I was jealous. I 
threw her into the New Eiver. Sir, I have never had a happy 
moment since I committed the deed. My life is a burthen 
to me ; and I would gladly terminate it upon the scaffold." 

" Are you quite sure you are telling me the truth ? " the 
chaplain asks. 


'^ Tlie truth, sir — God^s trutli. If I am not, may I," etc. 

He detailed tlie circumstances of the murder with so much 
circumstantiality that it was thought advisable to take all 
down in writing, so as to make full inquiry ; but both governor 
and chaplain are "fully convinced that the prisoner had 
fabricated the whole story in the hopes of getting himself 
removed to Newgate." No sort of corroboration is obtained 
outside, of course, and by-and-by the matter drops. I have 
merely quoted this as a sequel and commentary upon the 
conduct of Edwards, proving that he was clearly an impostor 
from first to last. 

But not long after this a fatal case occurred. The suicide 
was a man long suspected of being wrong in his head. Early 
one morning he was found hanging to the cross-beam of his 
loom, from the frame- work of which he had jumped, and 
thereby dislocated his neck. It appeared on inquiry that the 
mental derangement of which this man showed symptoms 
had been kept quite a secret from the governor and medical 
officer ; so also had his frequent requests to see the chaplain ; 
and the officer in charge of the ward was very properly sus- 
pended from duty " for culpable neglect, as probably, with 
timely interference, the prisoner's life might have been saved." 
But whether it might or might not, the news of his death spread 
rapidly through the prison, and from having occurred but 
rarely, real or feigned suicides became again quite the fashion. 
The gossip of an incautious matron took the intelligence first 
into the female pentagon. That very evening, after the 
women had been locked up, one yelled to another in the next 
cell that she meant to hang herself directly, and had a rope 
concealed, which she dared anyone to discover. This woman 
was made safe at once ; but next morning another was found 
tied up by her apron to the pegs of the clothes rack behind 
her cell door. She had failed to come out with the rest to 
wash, and as the officers approached to examine her cell they 
heard a noise of groaning within. A sort of feeble barricade 
had been made by the prisoner, with her mattress and pillows, 
to prevent entrance; but the door was easily opened, and 
behind it hung Hannah Groats by the neck, to one peg, while 
she carefully kept herself from harm by holding on by her 


hands to the two pegs adjoining. She was instantly taken 
down, when it was seen that she had not sustained the 
slightest damage. She had of course chosen her time just 
when she knew the cell doors were about to be opened, and 
she was safe to be quickly discovered. 

Next the men take up the contagion. One announces 
that unless he be removed without delay from the cell he 
occupies he shall forthwith make away with himself,, as he 
is tired of life. "He appeared so much dejected, and spoke 
with so much apparent earnestness, that I ordered him to the 
infirmary,^' says the governor. Another man writes on his 
slate that the authorities treat him with such severity, 
he shall certainly commit suicide. He is seen at once by 
both chaplain and governor, but continues " dogged and 
intractable." Then a certain impudent young vagabond^ 
notorious for his continual misconduct, is found one morning 
seated at his table, reading the burial service aloud from 
his Prayer-Book, and sharpening his knife on a bit of hearth- 
stone. A woman with a piece of linen tied tightly round. her 
neck, and nearly producing strangulation; men, one after 
another, found suspended, but always cut down promptly^ and 
proved to be unhurt in spite of pretended insensibility ; cases 
of this kind really occurred so frequently, that I should fill 
many pages were I to recount a tithe of them. 

But I will pass to describe the first instance in which it 
was found necessary to inflict corporal punishment in Millbank. 
It was as a punishment for a brutal assault. One of the 
prisoners, David Sheppard, checked " mildly " by his ofiicer 
for walking in his wrong place, replied, " I'll walk as I have 
always done, and not otherwise." 

" You must walk with your partner." 

Sheppard turned round most insolently and said, '^What 
is that you say ? I'll partner you.''^ An answer that is pretty 
conclusive as to the sort of discipline maintained in the 

The officer made no further remark, but walked away to 
unlock a gate. Sheppard followed him quickly, and without 
the least notice, caught him a tremendous blow behind the 
ear, striking him again and again, till other officers came to- 


the victim's assistance. Many of the prisoners cried '' Leave 
ojff ! " but none offered to interfere. As soon as the prisoner 
had been secured, he was carried before the governor. The 
assault was brutal and unprovoked, and seemed to call for 
immediate example. Under the recent Act of 7 & 8 Geo. IV,, 
it had become lawful to inflict corporal punishment in serious 
cases, and now for the first time this power was made avail- 
able. The prisoner Sheppard was sent to the Queen's Square 
police office, and arraigned before the sitting magistrate, who 
sentenced him forthwith to " one hundred and fifty lashes on 
the bare back." The whole of the prisoners of the D ward, to 
which Sheppard belonged, were therefore assembled in the 
yard, and the culprit tied up to iron railings in the circle. 
" Having addressed the prisoner," says the governor, " on this 
disgraceful circumstance, I had one hundred lashes applied by 
Warder Aulph, an old farrier of the cavalry, and therefore 
well accustomed to inflict corporal punishment, who volun- 
teered his services. The surgeon attended, and he being of 
opinion that Sheppard had received enough, I remitted the 
remainder of his sentence, on an understanding to that effect 
with Mr. Gregory (the sitting magistrate). The lashes were 
not very severely inflicted, but were sufficient for example. 
Sheppard, when taken down, owned the justice of his sentence, 
and, addressing his fellow-prisoners, said he hoped it would be 
a warning to them. He was then taken to the infirmary.'' A 
strong force of extra warders was present to overawe the 
spectators ; but all the prisoners behaved well, except one who 
yelled "Murder" several times, which was answered from the 
windows above, whence came also cries of " Shame." Another, 
who had been guilty some months before of a similar offence, 
witnessed the operation. It affected him to tears. " He was 
much frightened, and promised to behave better for the 

It is impossible to read this account of the infliction 
of what seemed a highly necessary chastisement without 
noticing the peculiar sensitiveness of the prison authorities 
on the subject. In these days there are crowds of thin- 
skinned philanthropists, ever ready to loudly rail against the 
use of the lash, even upon garrotters and the cowards who 


beat their wives. But at the time at which I am writing now 
— in 1830 that is to say^ when soldiers, for purely military 
offences, were flogged within an inch of their lives, and the 
"cat" alone kept the slave population of penal colonies in 
subjection — it is almost amusing to observe what a coil was 
raised about a single instance of corporal punishment. Were 
proof required of the exceeding mildness of the rule under 
which Millbank was governed, we should have it here. But, 
really, all milk-and-water tenderness is misplaced in the 
management of criminals. They are ever disposed to view 
leniency as weakness, ignoring altogether the kindness of 
heart which prompts the benevolent to treat them welL 
What ruffianism in excelsis can accomplish — when there is a 
mass of evilly-disposed villains, that is to say, almost uncon- 
trolled, with the strength of associated numbers setting a 
childishly weak executive at defiance — we shall see in dis- 
cussing events at Norfolk Island at a later date than this. 

Between this and the next assault there was a long 
interval. But after a little more than twelve months had 
elapsed, the ferocity of these candidates for reformation again 
made itself apparent. This time it was a concerted affair 
between two prisoners who fancied themselves aggrieved by 
the stern severity of their officer, Mr. Young. These men, 
Morris and King, had been reported for talking to each other 
from cell to cell. Next day both were let out to throw away 
the water in which they had washed. They met at the 
trough, and recommenced conversation which had been in- 
terrupted the day before. 

"At your old tricks, eh?" cried Mr. Young. "I shall 
have to report you again." 

" You lie, you rascal," shouted Morris, suddenly drawing a 
sleeveboard which he had concealed behind his back. Hold- 
ing this by the small end with both hands, he aimed several 
tremendous blows at Mr. Young's head, which the latter 
managed to ward off, partly, with his arms. But now King, 
armed with a pewter basin in one hand and a tailor's iron in 
the other, attacked him from behind. Soon Mr. Young's 
keys were knocked away from him, and he himself brought 
to the ground. However, he managed to regain his legs, and 


then made off, closely pursued by his assailants, who, flourish- 
ing their weapons and smashing everything fragile in their 
progress, drove him at length into a corner, got him down, 
beat him unmercifully, and left him for dead, King throwing 
the basin behind him as a parting shot. 

Mr. Young's cries of " Murder ! " had been continuous. 
They were re-echoed by the shouts of the many prisoners 
who, standing at their open cell doors, were spectators of the 
scene. One man, Nolan, climbing up to his window, gave 
the alarm to the tower below. Assistance soon arrived — 
the taskmaster followed by two others, who met first, Morris 
and King, as they were returning to their cells. '' What has 
happened ? " they asked. " I haven't an idea," Morris replied 
coolly. King, too, is equally in the dark. The officers pass 
on and come to other cells, in which the prisoners are seen 
grinning as if in high glee, and when questioned they only 
laugh the more. But at length Nolan is reached. " Oh, sir,'' 
says Nolan at once, through the bars of his gate, "they've 
murdered the officer, Mr. Young, sir. There lie his keys, 
and his body lies a little further on." At this moment, 
however, Mr. Young is seen dragging himself slowly towards 
them, evidently seriously injured and hardly able to walk. 
He just manages to explain what has happened, and as the 
governor has by this time also arrived, the offenders are 
secured and carried off to the refractory cells. 

Here was another case in which a prompt exhibition of the 
" cat " would probably have been attended with the best 
results. But for some reason or other this course was not 
adopted ; the prisoners Morris and King were remanded for 
trial at the next Clerkenwell Assizes, where, many months 
afterwards, they were sentenced to an additional year's im- 
prisonment. Naturally, such a punishment, so tardily ad- 
ministered, must have altogether failed as an example. The 
retribution that should attend flagrant insubordinate mis- 
conduct should be not only certain but immediate. The 
cowardly brute who, for fancied wrongs, suffers his temper to 
lead him into a treacherous attack upon his officer should be 
flogged just as he is taken, red-handed and fresh from the 
commission of his offence. No other form of punishment — 

K 2 


certainly not a prospective lengthening o£ sentence indefinitely 
delayed — can be expected to exercise an equally deterrent 
effect. But, as far as I can discover, in these times the power 
to inflict corporal punishment in the Penitentiary was very 
sparingly employed. No other case beyond that which I have 
just described appears recorded in the Journals till some four 
years afterwards, viz., in 1834, when a prisoner having attacked 
his officer with a shoe frame, the sitting magistrate ordered 
him to be flogged with as little delay as possible. For this pur- 
pose the services of the public executioner were obtained from 
Newgate, and one hundred out of the three hundred ordered 
were laid in " not very severely .^^ A large gathering of the 
worst behaved prisoners witnessed the punishment ; but all 
were very quiet. "Not a word was spoken, though many 
were in tears/' " I fervently hope,'' goes on Captain 
Chapman, ^*^that this painful discharge of my duty may be 
productive of that to which all punishment tends — the pre- 
vention of crime/' 




We now come to another stage in tlie onward career of the 
Penitentiary. The committee, compelled to admit that the 
discipline was not sufficiently severe, resolved to tighten the 
reins. In order to understand this decision we must take into 
consideration certain influences at work outside the walls. 

There was, about this time, a sort of panic in the country 
at the alarming prevalence of crime. Its continuous and 
extraordinary growth was certainly enough to cause uneasi- 
ness. In the years between December, 1817, and December, 


1831, it had increased 140 per cent* For this there was more 
than one reason, of course. One unquestionably was the tran- 
sition from a state of war to one of peace, followed by a great 
increase of population with a diminution in the demand for 
labour. No doubt the prevalence of distress or plenty among 
the poorer classes must have an appreciable effect upon the 
statistics of crime. " It is so easy for rich people to be 
honest/' says Becky Sharp. They know not the potent temp- 
tations that lure a starving wretch to theft, or worse. To them 
the dearness of food is only an inconvenience, while scarcity 
of work has no meaning at all. The nearer, then, that the 
masses approach a general level of comfort and ease, the more 
should offences decrease. Although they cannot be expected 
to disappear altogether while human nature is constituted as 
it is, they are certainly decreasing to-day, because the material 
prosperity of the country is removing many of the incentives 
to crime. At the time of which I am writing it was far 
otherwise : wide-spread distress swelled the ranks of the 
dangerous classes, and drove into evil ways many who would 
willingly have been honest, like Becky Sharp, if they had 
not been so poor. This, as I have said, was one reason. 
But another, and no insignificant cause, was the comparative 
immunity enjoyed by offenders. It came now to be under- 
stood that the lot of the transgressors was far from hard. 
The system of secondary punishments in force for their correc- 
tion was felt to be inadequate, either to reform criminals or 
deter from crime.t Here was an explanation: evidently a 
screw was loose in the way in which the sentence of the law 
was executed. The judges and the juries did their duty, but 
the criminal snapped his fingers at the ordeal to which they 
subjected him. This discontent with our own system of 
imprisonment grew and gained strength, till at last the whole 
question of secondary punishments was referred to a Select 
Committee of the House of Commons. 

All prisoners found guilty of crimes against the law were 

* December 31, 1817, Committed 56,308, Convicted 35,259. 

December 31, 1824, „ 92,848, „ 62,412. 

December 31, 1831, „ 121,518, „ 85,257. 

t Select Committee on Secondary Punishments, 1831-2. 


at that time disposed of by committal for short periods to tlie 
county gaols and hoq^es of correction, or they were sentenced 
to transportation for various terms of years. Those whose 
fate brought them within the latter category were further 
disposed of, according to the will of the Home Secretary, in 
one of these ways: — either, 1st, by committal to Millbank 
Penitentiary ; or, 2nd, by removal to the hulks ; or, finally, by 
actual deportation to the penal colonies beyond the seas. 
There were therefore four chances for a criminal. How he 
fared in each case, according as his fate overtook him, I shall 
proceed to describe. 

The county gaols were in these days still faulty. They 
made no attempt to reform the morals of their inmates, nor 
could they be said to diminish crime by the severity of their 
discipline. Indeed, they held out scarcely any terrors to the 
criminal. Of one of the largest, Coldbath Fields, Mr. Chester- 
ton, who was appointed its governor in 1829, speaks in the 
plainest terms. " It was a sink of abomination and pollution. 
The female side was only half fenced off from the male — 
evidently with an infamous intention; all its corrupt func- 
tionaries played into each others' hands to prevent inquiry 
or exposure.'^ * " None of the authorities who ruled the 
prison had acquired any definite notion of the wide-spread 
defilement that polluted every hole and corner of that Augean 
stable.^^t "Shameless gains were promoted by the encou- 
ragement of all that was lawless and execrable." J The same 
writer describes Newgate, which he visited, as presenting " a 
hideous combination of all that was revolting.''§ The thieves 
confined therein smoked short pipes, gamed, swore, and fought 
through half the night : the place was like a pandemonium. 
Again, "The prisons of Bury St. Edmund's, Salford, and 
Kirkdale created in my mind irrepressible disgust. I wondered 
why such detestable haunts should be tolerated.'^ Gaolers 
and criminals were on the best of terms with each other. 
At Ilchester the governor was in the habit of playing whist 
with his prisoners, and at Coldbath Fields the turnkeys shook 

* Chesterton, i. 108. f Ibid. % Ibid. 

§ Convicts frequently arrived at Millbank from Newgate drunk, 
escort and prisoners having visited one or two public houses en route. 


hands with new arrivals and promised to take " all possible 
care " of them. With all this there was such a deficiency 
of control that unlimited intercourse could not be prevented, 
and there followed naturally that corruption of innocent 
prisoners by the more depraved, which was a bugbear even 
in the time of Howard. 

But^ indeed, it was a wonder that Howard did not rise 
from his grave. Half a century had elapsed since his voice 
first was heard, and yet corrupt practices, idleness, and wide- 
spread demoralisation characterised the greater part of the 
small prisons in the country. Herein were confined the lesser 
lights of the great army of crime, and if they escaped thus 
easily, it could not be said that the more advanced criminals 
endured a lot that was much more severe. The reader has, 
perhaps, some notion by this time of the kind of punishment 
to be met with in the walls of the Penitentiary ; of the hulks, 
too, I have already spoken. The third method of coercion, by 
transportation, that is to say, beyond the seas, remains to be 
described ; but this I reserve for a later page,* recording only 
here the opinion of the committee of 1831, that as a punish- 
ment transportation held out to the dangerous classes abso- 
lutely no terrors at all. " Indeed, from accounts sent home, 
the situation of the convict is so comfortable, his advancement, 
if he conducts himself with prudence, so sure, as to produce a 
stray impression that transportation may be considered rather 
an advantage than a punishment." 

After a long and careful investigation, the committee 
wound up their report with the following pregnant words: 
" Your committee having now passed in review the different 
modes of secondary punishment known to the practice of this 
country, wish once more to direct the attention of the House 
to their obvious tendency. If it is a principle of our criminal 
•jurisprudence that the guilty should escape rather than the 
innocent suffer, it appears equally a principle, in the infliction 
of punishment, that every regulation connected with it, from 
the first committal of a prisoner to gaol to the termination of 
his sentence of transportation, should be characterised rather 
by an anxious care for .the health and convenience of the 
* See vol. ii., chapters i.-y. 


criminal than for anything which might even by implication 
appear to bear on him with undue severity. It cannot then be 
deemed surprising that^ in an over-peopled country, where a 
great portion of the community must necessarily be exposed to 
considerable privation, and where consequently the induce- 
ment to the commission of crime under any circumstances 
must be great, those who have been brought up with little 
attention to their moral improvement should, when urged by 
the pressure of want, yield to the temptation. On the one 
hand they trust to the uncertainty of the law and the chance 
of impunity it presents, while in the event of conviction they 
know that the worst that can befall them will be a change to a 
condition often scarcely inferior to that they were in before." * 

It will be easily seen now why the authorities at Millbank 
wished to set their house in order. Not that the select com- 
mittee had reported really unfavourably upon the Penitentiary ; 
on the contrary, after close inspection they spoke of Millbank 
in the highest terms. " Nothing," they say, " can exceed the 
order and cleanliness which characterises every department." 
Again, " As a place of punishment, it possesses one great 
advantage over any other in the country — in being generally 
dreaded for the strictness of the discipline and the irksome- 
ness of the confinement." Yet it had its faults, and doubtless 
it was the recapitulation of these that shook the self-compla- 
cency of its rulers. 

But it was clear that up to this time they had been per- 
fectly well satisfied with the place. Captain Chapman re- 
ported at the end of 1830, that it afforded him the greatest 
satisfaction to place on record the good order and regularity 
of the prison. " Serious reports rarely occur. At no period 
since the first opening of the institution has it been in so high 
a state of discipline and subordination." Of course this para- 
graph was penned in good faith ; but it can hardly be said to 
agree with actual facts — at least opinions differ as to what 
constitutes serious misconduct. But the committee endorsed 
the statement, and for a time all went well. Then came the 
parliamentary inquiry, only a few months later, and the com- 
mittee of Millbank awoke all at once to the true condition of 
* Eeport of Select Committee on Secondary Punishments, 1831 and 1S32. 


the prison. On account of the repeated " irregularities " laid 
before them, they now considered it necessary to " ascertain 
whether any, and what abuses existed; and whether there 
were any, and what defects in the system upon which the 
prison was conducted." The whole subject was therefore 
entrusted to a sub-committee, with full powers to examine 
and report. All the officials resident in the place were, of 
course, consulted in turn, and drew up statements of their 
views upon the causes at work. 

This sub- committee, after some months of patient inves- 
tigation, were of opinion that all the irregularities arose from 
*' the too great intercourse which the present system permits 
prisoners to hold with one another. The comparatively 
ignorant are thus instructed in schemes and modes of vice 
by th'e hardened and the depraved ; and those upon whom 
good impressions have been made are ridiculed and shamed 
out of their resolutions by associating with the profligate." 
We have here an admission that one of the old evils of prison 
life — indiscriminate association — which was to have been 
abolished by the Penitentiary system, was still in full vigour, 
and that in fact it had never been interfered with. 

The committee arrived therefore at the conviction ''that 
the prosperity and well-being of the establishment must de- 
pend upon effecting a more strict seclusion of the jprisoners, 
one from another." But as this increase of the solitary 
hours must inevitably increase the rigour of imprisonment, 
it was proposed now to shorten the term which every 
prisoner was required to pass in prison, and under the 
new rules. 

In support of which they urged that in no case does the 
work of amelioration "advance after a certain period." 
Under the existing system no prisoner was found to improve 
after 2|- or 3 years in the prison. " The monotony and 
absence of stimulus, which are the invariable consequence of 
long imprisonment, produce a languor even in the most 
robust subjects, which is equally prejudicial to the bodily 
exertion and the mental improvement of the prisoner." 

The committee then proceeded to point out the evils of the 
" classes " through which each prisoner passed. 


At his first arrival at the Penitentiary a '' partner ^' was 
appointed for him to walk with in the airing yard. The 
selection was the result of chance. No. 1 cell walked with 
No. 2, No. 3 with No. 4, and so on. According to the chance 
of which cell was vacant, the new prisoner found his com- 
panion. Thus it often happened that the new comer was 
thrown into constant association with an old hand, up to all 
the schemes and tricks of the prison; or a countryman fell 
in with a London thief, or a burglar long trained to house- 
breaking or the worst of crimes. To put a stop to all this, 
notwithstanding the hardships of it, it was proposed that 
exercise should in future be in single files. 

But a still greater evil arose from the practice of employ- 
ing the prisoners in the second class at associated labour. 
Being thus together for many hours during the day, com- 
munication between them could not be prevented. Cases 
were known of prisoners who had passed well through the first 
class becoming soon " entirely depraved by entering the 
second. Indeed some, on the point of promotion or just after 
it, begged to be kept in, or put back into the first class " as 
the only means of saving themselves from the seductions of 
their profligate comrades ; and instances have been related of 
prisoners who had, after having quitted the Penitentiary, 
committed crimes and been convicted, having attributed their 
ruin to the evil of the second class." 

This plan of working together must therefore be abolished. 
But what to substitute ? Although so much money has been 
spent already, it was felt that more might well be employed 
in effecting so desirable a result; but happily a plan was 
suggested which would obviate fresh outlay. 

One scheme was to throw a number of cells into one large 
working room, where the prisoners might work in company 
certainly, but under close supervision of ofl&cers. The inse- 
curity of the foundations unfortunately forbade this. The other 
plan suggested was a simple re-arrangement of the wards, by 
which, as the Penitentiary was never quite full, a number of 
extra cells were given to the second-class wards, enough to 
allow every second-class prisoner one to himself, wherein to 
sleep at night and work all day. 


It is to be hoped that the reader is not yet weary of these 
details. There is no doubt, and not unnaturally, a notion 
prevalent among many that the subject of prison discipline 
has been nearly done to death. What with native dryness, 
and added verbiage, a chapter about it is felt to be less 
interesting than one of Scuderi^s romances, or a page in a 
dictionary of dates. Yet prison discipline at the date at which 
we have arrived was the topic of the hour. Its discussion 
filled the public prints and men^s mouths wherever they 
talked, whether in the Houses of Parliament or in the world 
at large. As Millbank continued to be intimately connected 
with the subject throughout, I cannot omit from these pages 
a somewhat extensive review of the whole question. 

There was no doubt in these days a very general impression 
with us, that in matters of prison discipline we had much to 
learn from the practice of the United States. This led to the 
despatch of Mr. Crawford, as special commissioner, to report 
upon the American penitentiaries. The results of his labours 
were embodied in a Blue Book,* which appeared in 1834, and 
which was thoroughly exhaustive of the subject. Having 
carefully inspected all the prisons, and compared them one 
with another, he was enabled to sum up decisively in favour of 
that which he thought most worthy of imitation. Taken 
broadly, the penitentiaries of the United States might be 
classed in two principal groups. There was the system of 
Pennsylvania, and there was the system of the State of New 
York. Of the first the leading characteristic was that the 
prisoners were subjected during all their sentence to solitude 
the most absolute and severe; in the second, the prisoners 
worked together in troops, but in silence, enforced by the 
strictest supervision and the lash. The first has been called 
the ''separate" system; and the latter the "silent.''^ By 
these titles they are still known to the student of social 
science, and to their respective champions in this country 
and elsewhere. 

The quakers of Pennsylvania were undoubtedly early in 
the work of prison reform. At a time when Howard was 
* Penitentiaries of the United States. 


lifting up his voice against the state of the English prisons, 
they also were busy in softening the severity of their penal 
code. They abolished the punishment of death, and made 
more than one effort to discover some substitute. The first 
found was certainly a failure. It consisted in forced igno- 
minious labour in the public streets. The convicts^ with their 
heads shaved, shackled, and in a hideously distinctive dress, 
were turned out to work amidst the populace. Their conduct 
when thus exposed proved outrageous ; drunkenness, pro- 
fanities, and indecencies prevailed to such an extent that 
it was dangerous for the public to approach them. Every 
spark of right feeling and propriety was altogether extin- 
guished in them. They begged openly from the passers-by ; 
collected around them crowds of idle boys, and held with 
them the most disgraceful conversation ; planned and carried 
out the most desperate escapes ; and when again free were a 
terror to all from their violence and unrestrained depravity. 
This could not last long, and within four years the second 
experiment was tried. An old war-prison, in Walnut Street, 
Philadelphia, was appropriated for criminals. The sexes were 
separated, trades were taught, and a certain number of single 
cells built, " in the hope that the addition of unremitted 
solitude to laborious employment, as far as it can be effected, 
will contribute as much to reform as to deter." " The erection 
of these cells," says Crawford, " and the introduction of trades 
excited shortly afterwards considerable attention. Visitors 
struck by the manufacturing character of the establishment, 
and the apparent industry of its inmates, hastily assumed that 
the ends of punishment were at once accomplished ; and the 
Walnut Street prison, great as were its defects, was pro- 
nounced to be a model for general imitation,^' This impres- 
sion was strengthened by the fact, that about this period, 
crime (from other causes) sensibly diminished, and at first the 
gaol got all the credit. But its discipline was very far from 
perfect. In the main body of the prison indiscriminate asso- 
ciation was permitted, and the prisoners could talk together 
as they chose during the hours of work. The separate cells 
were useless. They were too small, badly ventilated, and did 


not " separate " people at all. So far from being a model, 
the Walnut Street prison was in every way unsatisfactory 
from tlie earliest date. 

The next effort, the erection of the Pittsburg Penitentiary, 
in 1818, also proved a failure. Here solitary confinement 
without labour was to be the rule ; but this, when the build- 
ing was finished, was found impossible. The convicts were 
indeed confined in separate cells, but they could, and did 
freely communicate with each other. These facilities for 
corrupt intercourse were greatly increased by the idleness in 
which they spent their time ; and the results generally 
were so mischievous, that the legislature determined to 
erect another prison, if possible, on better principles. The 
result was the celebrated Eastern Penitentiary. No pains or 
costs were spared on its construction. The cells were large, 
and contained within them all necessary appliances ; for here, 
alone, the prisoners were condemned to remain for ages, 
perhaps for ever. On arrival, the convict was taken into an 
ofiice at the entrance, examined, bathed, clothed in prison 
dress, then blindfolded and marched to his cell. He was like 
a live man entering his tomb; he was dead and buried to all 
intents and purposes, for the world knew him no more, nor 
he the world. The process of his reception recalls somewhat 
the mysterious fate that overtook unfortunate offenders in the 
dark ages. As he was led with bandaged eyes, by long 
passages, he knew not whither, a solemn voice was heard 
admonishing him, reminding him of his position, and requiring 
implicit obedience for the future. On arriving at his cell the 
hood was removed and he was left alone. There he might 
remain for years, perhaps for life, without seeing any human 
being but the inspectors, the warders, and his officers, and 
perhaps occasionally one of the official visitors of the prison. 
For the first day or two he was left entirely to his own 
thoughts, without work and without even a Bible to read. 
The hours of isolation were aggravated by his unbroken idle- 
ness, and the prisoner driven in on himself soon petitioned for 
employment. But it was not " till solitude appears to have 
effectually subdued him that employment of any kind is intro- 
duced into his cell. Under such circumstances labour is 


regarded as a great alleviation ; and sach is the industry mani- 
fested, that with few exceptions has it been necessary to 
assign tasks /^ 

Mr. Crawford was greatly captivated by what he saw in 
the Eastern Penitentiary. He found the deterring influence 
greater, as he thought, than in any other system of gaol 
management. The prisoners whom he examined were unani- 
mous in their testimony that solitude was the most corrective 
of all punishments. He was indeed "particularly struck by 
the mild and subdued spirit which seemed to pervade the 
temper of the convicts, and which is essentially promoted by 
reflection, solitude, and the absence of corporal punishment.-'* 
There were few prison offences in the Eastern Penitentiary. 
There was no scope for their commission. The caged-up 
criminal could only be idle, or in a fit of sullenness and temper 
destroy the materials at which he worked. '' Solitary im- 
prisonment," goes on Mr. Crawford, warming with his subject, 
" is not only an exemplary punishment, but a powerful agent 
in the reformation of morals. It inevitably tends to arrest 
the progress of corruption. In the silence of the cell con- 
tamination cannot be received or imparted. A sense of 
degradation cannot be excited by exposure, nor reformation 
checked by false shame. Day after day, with no companion 
but his thoughts, the convict is compelled to reflect, and 
hsten to the reproof of conscience. He is led to reflect on 
past errors, and to cherish whatever better feelings he may 
at any time have imbibed. These circumstances are in the 
highest degree calculated to ameliorate the affections and re- 
claim the heart." Of course Mr. Crawford from henceforth 
became a consistent supporter of this method of prison man- 
agement. He considered it safe and efficacious, without 
unfavourable effect upon either mind or health; and when 
accompanied by sufficient moral and religious instruction, it 
might be rendered ''powerfully instrumental," not only in 
deterring but also in reclaiming the offender. 

So much for the "separate system": let us turn now to 
the " silent " — silent but not solitary, for the name is a slight 
misnomer and calculated to mislead. The first-mentioned 
system was also most essentially "silent," unless a prisoner 


liked to talk to himself ; but tlie latter lias gained this special 
epithet mainly because the prisoners, though congregated, 
were absolutely forbidden to converse with each other. 

The leading examples of this method were the prisons of 
Auburn and Sing-Sing, in the State of New York, wherein, 
the prisoners were not caged up singly, and treated like dan- 
gerous beasts, to be tamed only by unbroken confinement, 
but they were allowed to associate, partly, at least to see one 
another. They slept in separate cells, but by day they worked 
together in gangs, under the eye of authority. Large shops, 
ateliers, were filled with the various tradesmen, who were 
required to continue their labours with downcast eyes; if 
detected at any time in looking off their work, communicating, 
or attempting to catch another prisoner's eye, they were im- 
mediately flogged. The punishment was summary : every 
warder carried a " cat " of cowhide on purpose, and there was 
no limit to the number of lashes laid on. The power thus 
confided to subordinate officers was unchecked, and led often 
to outrageous excesses. Horrible stories are told by Crawford, 
of weak-minded persons beaten black and blue; of others 
found bleeding from the head and face, with their shirts 
sticking to their backs, and with old sores breaking out 
afresh ; of prisoners knocked down for making gestures, or 
for being slow in coming out of their cells, and kicked when 
on the ground. A more revolting case was that of a pregnant 
woman, Eachel Welsh, who was nearly flogged to death by 
one Cobb, an assistant keeper. She was obstinate, violent, 
and abusive ; and for this she was held down by two negroes 
while he beat her. When examined afterwards by the doctor 
she was found black and blue from the neck to the small of 
the back, and the marks of the blows extended to her sides 
and to the calves of her legs. Having lain long in a dan- 
gerous state she partially recovered, but after her confinement 
died, "under a succession of the most distressing sufferings." 
Although the whipping was admitted to be a proximate cause 
of death, Cobb escaped, and was not even removed from his 
situation. Such repressive measures could not fail to exercise 
a powerful effect on the prisoners ; but though otherwise well 
disciplined, communication could not be entirely prevented 


among them ; notes passed notwithstanding, tending to incite 
to insurrection ; and so far as they could safely venture they 
were found talking, laughing, singing, whistling, altercating, 
and quarrelling with each other and with the officers, " They 
will idle away their time in gazing ; and will waste or destroy 
the stock they work upon,^' says one witness. Naturally, 
Mr. Crawford was hostile to the system here described. " In 
the permanent effects the Auburn discipline is alleged to pro- 
duce, I have no faith. It is true that the discipline of the lash 
produces instantaneous submission; but this obedience is of 
but a temporary nature. It imparts no valuable feeling, and 
presents no motive that is calculated to deter eventually from 
the commission of crime and amend the moral character.^' 

As compared with one another, he calls the discipline of 
Philadelphia moral, and that of Auburn physical. " The whip 
inflicts immediate pain ; but solitude inspires permanent 
terror. The former degrades, while it humiliates; the latter 
subdues, but it does not debase. At Auburn the convict is 
uniformly treated with harshness, at Philadelphia with civility; 
the one contributes to harden, the other to soften the affec- 
tions. Auburn stimulates vindictive feelings; Philadelphia 
induces habitual submission." 

No wonder that after summing up thus, Mr. Crawford 
declared for the system that provided complete solitude for 
the prisoners. There were horrors in the method by which 
Auburn and Sing- Sing were managed sufficient to condemn it. 
On the other hand, cellular seclusion and the reformatory 
results that were to flow therefrom could not fail to constitute 
a plan attractive to every enlightened mind. Unfortunately, 
practice in this, as in numberless other cases, fell short of 
theory ; and we know by the light of our modern experience 
that solitary imprisonment protracted beyond certain limits is 
impossible except at a terrible cost. This price is, that the 
prison becomes the ante-chamber of the madhouse, or leads 
even to the tomb. It has taken years to establish this now 
incontrovertible conclusion, but it is now so distinctly known 
that argument seems superfluous. We might quote here from 
the pages of a popular romance, which did much to expose 
the fatal effects of solitary confinement long continued, but 


Mr. Reade's storj is a little over-coloured. The language of 
Charles Dickens is more to the point, because he speaks from 
close personal observation. He thus gives his opinion of the- 
method in vogue at the Eastern Penitentiary -when he visited 
it in 1842 : 

" In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind,, 
humane, and meant for reformation ; but I am persuaded that 
those who devised this system of prison discipline, and those 
benevolent gentlemen who carry it into execution, do not 
know what it is they are doing. I believe very few men are 
capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and 
agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, 
inflicts upon the sufferers. ... I hesitated once, debating 
with myself, whether, if I had the power of saying ' yes ' or 
' no,' I would allow it to be tried in certain cases when the 
terms of imprisonment were short ; but now I solemnly 
declare, that with no rewards or honours could I walk a happy 
man beneath the open sky by day, or lie me down upon my 
bed at night, with the consciousness that one human creature- 
for any length of time, no matter what, lay suffering this un- 
known punishment in his silent cell, and I the cause, or I 
consenting to it in the least degree.'" ^ This forcible language 
is fully justified when animadverting upon absolute and long- 
continued solitary confinement. This principle was for a time 
established at Millbank, with what results we shall by-and-by 
see. At Pentonville also, the model prison, constructed in 
1841-2, solely to carry out this solitary imprisonment, the 
term of confinement had to be reduced by degrees from two 
years to nine months, the maximum period enforced to-day in 
the case of convicts in government hands. Some prisoners are 
still sentenced to two years' imprisonment, to be undergone in 
the "local" prisons, but in this case the confinement is not 
absolutely solitary. There are many breaks in on the loneli- 
ness of the hours ; attendance with others at church, associated 
exercise, visits from chaplain, schoolmaster, and trade instructor. 
As these are permitted in our modern method of separate con- 
finement, the punishment, if it really be irksome — which is by^ 
no means certain — is at least robbed of half its terrors. 
* American Notes. 


But to return to Crawford, in 1834. Having thrown in 
his lot with the advocates for complete solitary imprisonment, 
he fought bravely for his opinions. But he was vigorously 
opposed. There were not wanting advocates of the congre- 
gate, or '' silent ^^ system, partly, I apprehend, because it 
would have entailed enormous expense to supply separate 
cellular accommodation for every prisoner, in every gaol 
throughout the kingdom. Many who had the management 
of prisons naturally leant to the method which was capable 
of execution in the existing buildings. Where two plans of 
treatment have each certain merits of their own, and the 
superiority of neither is distinctly and finally proved, that 
which is the cheapest generally claims support. To enforce 
solitary confinement everywhere meant the reconstruction 
of almost every prison in the kingdom. Only now, after a 
lapse of nearly forty years, has this entire separation been 
universally provided. However much, in 1834, people went 
with those who advocated complete prison reform, few cared 
to countenance the expenditure of millions to attain it, espe- 
cially if equal results could be otherwise obtained. There 
sprang up, therefore, a large class, ofiicials and others, who, 
while admitting that reform in discipline was greatly needed, 
considered that it was sufficient to ensure separation of 
prisoner from prisoner by night, but that they might work 
together by day, provided only that silence was rigorously 
maintained. In other words, they became the partizans, 
openly acknowledged, of the Auburn system which Mr. Craw- 
ford had so loudly condemned. Its faults, they said, lay 
rather with the practice than with the principle. Eliminate 
the brutality, deprive subordinate officers of their cowardly 
cow-hide " cats," vest authority to punish in the supreme 
head of the prison alone, and the leading objections to that 
system were successfully removed. I do not wish to travel 
over all this ground again, or to reopen the dispute, which, 
for all the heat that animated it once, is long since dead and 
buried. In our practice to-day, by a simple compromise^ we 
have nearly solved the problem : we subject our prisoners to 
solitary confinement for a time, for as loug, in point of fact, 
as by our modern experience we find it feasible without 

L 2 


damage to life or understanding. Whenever tlie sentence 
exceeds this limit of time, the prisoner passes into "associa- 
tion ; " in other words, he works in company with others, 
but in silence, as far as it is humanly possible to enforce 
the rule. 

But in 1834, and the years immediately following, the 
question was in course of animated discussion. The Mill- 
bank committee undoubtedly leant to Mr. Crawford's side. 
Already, as I have related in a previous chapter, they had 
changed greatly the system of classes. Every prisoner was 
lodged in a separate cell. They were exercised in single file, 
at long intervals, circling round an ofl&cer, who stood in the 
centre to check all attempts at conversation between them. 
Then, at the end of 1836, the committee report that ''great 
and important changes are contemplated in the general 
discipline of this institution, with a view to render the 
punishment of prisoners more certain and severe. But by 
far the most interesting subject, both as regards punishment 
and reformation, is the experiment intended to be made in 
the total separation of individuals, by confining them in cells 
so constructed as to render all communication between them 
impracticable. The committee are so fully sensible of the 
evils resulting from communications between prisoners, that 
they would hail as a great public benefit the introduction of 
a plan which should effectually obviate these evils without 
endangering the mental and bodily health of the prisoners."* 
Next year we hear that the cells by which the complete sepa- 
ration of prisoners was to be ensured, were all but completed. 
The committee go on to say, " Whether the separate system, 
as it is called, is likely to be attended, either with the benefits 
its supporters anticipate, or with the evils its opponents 
denounce, it is not for the committee to decide. The merits 
or demerits of the system can only be ascertained by actual 

Some notion of the results of the experiment will be 
obtained from this narrative as it proceeds. 

* Annual Report to the House of Commons. 




When the new system to be pursued at Millbank was under 
discussion, as described in the last chapter, one of the most 
important of the projected improvements was suggested by 
the new chaplain, Mr. Whitworth Russell. By it he hoped 
" to be enabled to afford to the prisoners generally, a regular 
course of religious instruction.^' He proposed that "the 
open part of the chapel should be provided with benches, 
so that he might assemble daily, large classes for religious 
instruction." To these classes he was to devote three hours 
every morning, the schoolmaster performing the same duty 
in the afternoon. During the morning instruction by the 
chaplain this schoolmaster had to visit the prisoners, cell by 
cell, either collecting information as to the previous habits 


and connections of tlie prisoners, or carrying on tlie instruc- 
tion commenced at scliool or tlie lectures in chapel. 

In this last paragraph we have struck the key-note of the 
system that was now to prevail with increasing strength, till 
by-and-by, as we shall see, it grew altogether supreme. Never 
since the opening of Millbank, in 1817, had the spiritual 
welfare of the prisoners been forgotten, nor the hope 
abandoned of reforming them by religious influences. But 
now, and for years to come, the chaplain was to have the 
fullest scope. Whether much tangible benefit followed from 
his increasing ministrations, will be best shown in these pages 
as my narrative proceeds ; but it cannot be denied that the 
efforts of Mr. Whitworth Eussell, and of his successor Mr. 
Nihil, who in himself combined the offices of governor and 
chaplain, were praiseworthy in the extreme. Speaking, how- 
ever, with all due reverence, I cannot but think that their zeal 
was often misdirected ; that conversion, such as it is, obtained 
by force almost, could never be either sincere or lasting ; and 
in short, that the continued parade of sacred things tended 
rather to drag them into the mire, while the incessant religious 
exercises — the prayers, expositions, and genuflexions were 
more in keeping with a monastery of monks than a gaol full 
of criminals. 

There are numberless instances scattered up and down 
among the records of the sort of spirit in which the prisoners 
received their sacred instruction. It was the custom for a 
monitor, specially selected from among the prisoners, to read 
aloud the morning and evening service in each ward. He was 
frequently disturbed. Once when " Balaam's " name ap- 
peared in the lesson, it was twisted into " Ba — a — Lamb ! " and 
as such went echoing along with peals of laughter from cell to 
cell. The monitor was frequently called upon for a song just 
before he gave out the hymn ; others mocked him as he sang, 
and sang ribald verses so loud as to drown the voices of the 
rest J many said they couldn't sing, and nothing should 
compel them; often they would not join in the Lord's Prayer 
— there was no law, they said, to make them say their prayers 
against their wills. Then a certain Joseph Wells, an old 


offender, was reported for writing on his pint cup these 
lines : 

" Yor order is but mine is 

for me to g'o tliat Fll go to 

to chapel, Hell first ; " 

and when remonstrated with, he merely laughed in the 
governor's face. There was constant antagonism between the 
prisoners and their comrade the monitor, generally over the 
church catechism, in which, as a species of chaplain's assistant, 
the latter had to instruct the others. " What's your name ? " 
he asks one. " George Ward; and you know it as well as I 
■do," replies the prisoner. Another reads his answers out of 
the book. The monitor suggests that by this time he ought to 
know the catechism by heart. " Ah, everyone hasn't got the 
gift of the gab like you have. And look here, don't talk to 
me again like that, or you'll be sorry for it." Again, as a 
proof of the glibness with which they could quote scrip- 
tural language, I must insert here a strange rhapsody found 
on a prisoner's slate. He himself pretends to be dumb. 
When spoken to he merely shook his head and pointed to the 
writing. It was as follows : 

" My kind Goveenoe, — I hope you will hearken unto me, 
as your best friend ; in truth I am no prophet, though I am 
sent to bear witness as a prophet. For behold my God came 
walking on the water, and came toward me where I stood, and 
said unto me. Fear not to speak, for I am with you. There- 
fore I shall open my mouth in prophesies, and therefore do 
not question me too much ; but if you will ear my words, call 
your nobles together, and tlien I will speak unto you of all he 
has given me in power, and the things I shall say unto you 
shall come to pass within 12 months; therefore be on your 
guard, and mind what you say unto me, for there be a tremor 
on all them that hear me speak, for I shall make your ears to 
tingle. And the first parable I shall speak is this :. Behold, 
-out of the mire shall come forth brightness against thee." 

This man, when brought before the governor, continued 


obstinately dumb. The surgeon consulted was satisfied lie 
was sbamming, but still tlie prisoner persisted in keeping 
silence. "Is there any reason why he should not go to 'the 
dark'?'' the surgeon was asked. ''Certainly not; on the 
contrary, I think it would be of service to him." And to the 
dark he goes, where he remains for six days, till he voluntarily 
relinquished the imposture. 

The energy and determination of the new chaplain, who 
was appointed about the time the new rules were established, 
were very remarkable. He was a man of decided ability, and 
his influence could not fail to be soon felt throughout the 
prison. Perhaps in manner he was somewhat overbearing, 
and disposed to trench on the prerogative of the governor as 
to the discipline of the establishment. He soon came into 
collision with the prisoners. Many " tried it on," as the say- 
ing is, with him, but signally failed ; and any who were guilty 
of even the slightest disrespect were immediately punished. Mr. 
Eussell constantly reported cases of misconduct. Thus, having 
asked at school, whether any present had been unable to write 
on coming into prison, a man, Fleming, said, " Yes ! I could 
not." "You have every cause to be thankful, then, at the 
opportunities afforded you here." "Not at all," replied 
Fleming. "I have reason to curse the Penitentiary and 
everybody belonging to it." " Be silent," said the chaplain. 
" I shall not stand by and listen to such reprehensible 
language." " I'll not be gagged. I shall speak the truth," 
persisted Fleming; and for this without loss of time he was 
transferred to the dark. 

All the chaplain's professional feelings were also roused 
by another incident that transpired not long after his 
arrival. It was discovered that a prisoner, George Ander- 
son, a man of colour, who had been educated at a missionary 
college, had through the connivance of a warder been en- 
deavouring to sow the seeds of disbelief in the minds of 
many of the prisoners. He had turned the chaplain and 
his sacred office into ridicule, asserting that the services 
of the Church of England were nonsense from beginning 
to end, that the prayers contained false doctrine, that the 
Athanasian Creed was all rubbish, and that the church 


" went with a lie in her right hand," This man Anderson 
must have been a thorn in the chaplain's side, for they had 
more than once a serious scuffle in the polemics of the church. 
Mr. Eussell got ''warm" in the discussion of a certain passage 
in Scripture, and jumping up suddenly to reach his Bible, 
struck his leg against the table. After this Anderson had 
drawn a caricature of the scene, writing underneath, " Oh, my 
leg \ " and from henceforth the chaplain went by the name 
of " Oh, my leg." At another time there was a long dispute 
as to the date of the translation of the Septuagint, and upon 
the service for " the Visitation of the Sick." Anderson on 
returning to his cell from Mr, Eussell's office, had been in the 
habit of taking off his coat, and shaking it, saying always, 

" Peugh 1 smell of fire and brimstone." One cannot refrain 

from observing here how much better oakum picking would 
have suited Anderson than theological controversy. 

Fortunately among the prisoners were two — Johnson and 
Manister Worts — who wei'e more than a match for the un- 
orthodox black man. Though Anderson maintained that the 
Athanasian Creed was objected to by many able divines ; 
though he took exception to the title " religious," given to 
the King in the prayer for the High Court of Parliament, 
whether he was religious or not ; though he maintained that 
his animadversions upon the church were the very words used 
by his former pastor, the Reverend Silas Fletcher, from the 
pulpit — yet the knowledge and acquirements of Johnson and 
Worts enabled them " triumphantly to refute Anderson," 

Nor were the women behindhand in giving the chaplain 
annoyance. In the middle of the service on one occasion a 
woman jumped up on to her seat, crying out, "Mr. Russell, 
Mr. Russell, as this may be the last time I shall be at church, 
I return you thanks for all favours." The chaplain replied 
gravely that the House of God was no place for her to address 
him, but the attention of the male prisoners in the body of the 
chapel below was attracted, and it was with some difficulty 
that a general disturbance was prevented. At another time 
there was actually a row in the church. Just as the sermon 
began, a loud scream or huzza was heard among the females. 
At first it was supposed that some woman was in a fit, but 


tlie next moment half-a-dozen Prayer Books were flung at 
the chaplain's head in the pulpit. With some difficulty the 
culprits were removed before the nproar became general; 
but as soon as the chaplain had finished his sermon, and said 
'•'Let us pray/^ a voice was heard audibly through the building 
replying, '^No, we have had praying enough/^ A more 
serious affair was only prevented with difficulty a year or two 
later when the women in the galleries above plotted to join 
the men in the body of the church below in some desperate 

Mr. Whit worth Russell, however, through it all continued 
to exhibit the same unwearied activity and zeal. He never 
spared himself; and as the years passed by, he became 
known as one experienced in all that concerned prisons 
and their inmates. Therefore it was that, when the cry 
for prison reform echoed loudly through the land, he was 
named one of Her Majesty's inspectors of prisons. His 
colleague was Mr. Crawford, who has been mentioned "in 
these pages already; and they divided the whole of Great 
Britain between them. How vigorously they applied 
themselves to their task will be best seen by a reference 
to their voluminous reports, which issued year by year, in 
huge volumes, from the parliamentary printers. They con- 
tributed in no slight degree to subsequent legislative action in 
matters connected with prison discipline, and the reader will 
meet with both names again in future pages of this book. 

Mr, Russell was succeeded as chaplain at Millbank by the 
Rev. Daniel Nihil, a gentleman who soon gave satisfactory 
evidence that he was worthy to wear his predecessor's mantle. 
All that Mr. Russell did, did Mr. Nihil also, and more. Ere 
long he found himself so firmly established in the good graces 
of the committee, that he was soon raised by them to wider, if 
not exactly higher, functions. In 1837 it was decided that he 
should hold the appointment of both governor and chaplain 

On the 15th of April in that year, the governor, Captain 
Chapman, wrote to tender his resignation for various reasons. 
*' The changes that have taken place, those about to be intro- 
duced by the new Bill, his advanced age and indifferent 


liealthj induced him to consider it due to the public service to 
retire, for tlie purpose of enabling tlie committee to supply 
his place by the appointment of an officer who might begin 
the new system at its commencement." In reply came a 
gracious message from the committee, to the effect that they 
were aware of the " unwearied assiduity, zeal, and ability " 
with which he had discharged his arduous duties for fourteen 
years, and they recommended him '^for the most liberal and 
favourable consideration of the Secretary of State, on account 
of his long and faithful services."* At the same meeting it 
was at once mooted that Mr. Nihil should succeed to the 
vacancy. But first the sanction of the bishop of the diocese 
was sought, and of the Secretary of State, to both of whom 
deputations were despatched, seeking their views on the 

The Rev. Mr. D'Oyley next meeting reported to the com- 
mittee that " the Bishop of London, after much consideration, 
approved of the plan, thinking that the advantages would 
more than counterbalance any probable disadvantages from 
the office of governor being held by a clergyman;" and Mr. 
Gregson said he had had an interview with the Under 
Secretary of State, " who informed him that Lord John 
Eussell had no objection to the appointment of a clergyman 
as governor, provided he was in all other respects properly 
qualified for the office ; and that it had even occurred to his 
Lordship, before the communication from Mr. Gregson, that 
the appointment of a clergyman might in some respects be 
most desirable as a governor of the Penitentiary.^' 

" Under these circumstances, the committee being of 
opinion that the Eev. Daniel Nihil, from the zeal and energy 
which he has shown in the performance of the duty of 
chaplain, and from the judgment and intelligence which he 
has displayed on the subject of prison discipline, is a most fit 
and competent person on this occasion to fill the situation of 
governor of the Penitentiary." 

He was, therefore, duly appointed on the 29th April, 1837. 
Bat soon after this. Lord John Russell, having apparently 
reconsidered the question, called upon the committee to 

* The pension granted liim by the Treasury was £200 a year. 


furnisli hira witli their reasons, and the principles upon which 
they had acted in filling up the vacancy. 

They reported, accordingly, that from experience they had 
found the great practical inconvenience of ''having two 
officers, each supreme in his own department : the governor 
as the head of the penal, the chaplain of the religious part 
of the system. In a penitentiary these two parts are so inti- 
mately blended that jars and jealousies between the governor 
and the chaplain are inevitable when the authority is thus 
divided. The governor being responsible for the maintenance 
of the discipline of the establishment, and having the sole 
direction and control of the inferior officers, is naturally satis- 
fied with their conduct provided they maintain the discipline; 
whereas the chaplain, if a conscientious man, is anxious that 
together with the maintenance of discipline, the great re- 
formative purposes of the institution should be promoted, or, 
at least, not counteracted, by the inferior officers. The E;ev. 
W. Russell, late chaplain, in his evidence before Parliament, 
complained that his ministerial labours were often thwarted 
by the indifference to religion which was too generally mani- 
fested on the part of the inferior officers : and the present 
chaplain concurs in the same complaint. Mr. Nihil was ap- 
pointed because he seemed eminently qualified for the office 
of governor, and it was in consideration of his personal fitness, 
and without meaning to sanction the general principle that a 
chaplain ought always to be the governor. But the supreme 
authority over evei-y part of the penitentiary system being now 
exercised by the same individual, he will be enabled to select 
and superintend the inferior officers, both with a view to the 
maintenance of discipline, and also to the promotion of the 
moral and religious objects of the institution. This will put 
an end to the collision which has so frequently occurred be- 
tween the rival departments, and will impart vigour and unity 
to the whole system.''^ There would be no larger salary given 
to Mr. Nihil than Captain Chapman had, but it would be 
necessaiy to appoint an assistant chaplain, by which arrange- 
ment the religious efficiency of the establishment would be 
greatly increased, without any increase whatever of expense. 
" The whole plan now recommended by the committee is 


the result of a careful and anxious consideration of the various 
bearings of the subject. If one clergyman were to hold the 
office of governor only, and another that of chaplain, the 
latter, according to the Acts relating to the Penitentiary, 
would be the chief religious officer, and the clerical governor, 
if willing to take a portion of the spiritual labour, could only 
do so as an assistant or deputy to the chaplain, and such an 
arrangement would tend to revive those jealousies which 
have heretofore arisen from having two co-ordinate officers : 
whereas the plan now recommended obviates this difficulty 
by vesting in one individual the supreme authority both in 
the temporal and religious concerns of the institution, while 
it assimilates the relative positions of the two clergymen to 
those of a rector and curate of the same parish." 

To this Lord John Russell replied, that being " unwilling 
to stand in the way of an arrangement which the superin- 
tending committee consider advisable, he is therefore pre- 
pared to sanction that which is now proposed of uniting the 
offices of governor and chaplain in the same person, and 
appointing an assistant chaplain. But his lordship desires 
that this arrangement may be considered only as an experi- 
ment, it appearing to him that the strict enforcement of 
discipline in a prison is a duty hardly to be reconciled 
with the consoling and charitable offices of a minister of 
religion, and that the governor and chaplain must lose by a 
combination of the two characters. The motives to which the 
governor must appeal, are the fear of punishments and the 
dread of privations, — the chaplain, on the contrary, uses 
means of pei-suasion, and rouses conscientious feelings. It 
will be a serious evil should the governor be deterred by his 
spiritual ministration from a fearless enforcement of the rules ; 
or the chaplain find his instraction impaired by the association 
of punishment and severity with the exercise of his religious 
calling. Lord John Russell therefore hopes that in the 
selection of an assistant chaplain, the committee will endeavour 
to select a person who may be fully qualified for the duties 
heretofore performed by the chaplain." 

I shall now proceed to give some account of the chaplain's 
reign in the Penitentiary'. It will be seen at once that his mere 


appointment as head of the establisTiment sufficiently sliows the- 
influences that were in ascendant witli the committee of the 
Penitentiary. Not that this body were alone and peculiar in 
their views. ' The general tone of public opinion at that time 
turned towards entrusting the ministers of religion with full 
powers to preach prisoners out of their evil courses into 
honesty and the right path. Far be it from me to detract 
from the efforts made in such a cause. The work of good and 
earnest men, who seek to benefit their fellows, can never be 
barren altogether of results. But it is greatly to be feared 
that habitual criminals are not to be reformed by purely 
moral and religious means. Those who from long experience 
know the dangerous classes well have little hope of any such 
permanent improvement. Mr. Elam Lynds, the well-known 
governor of Sing-Sing prison, told M, de Tocqueville that he 
did not believe in complete reform except in the case of young 
offenders. "In my opinion/' he says, "nothing is moi'e rare 
than to see a criminal of advanced age become a virtuous and 
religious man. I put no faith in the holiness of those who 
leave prison ; and I do not believe that the chaplain's counsels 
nor the prisoner's meditations will ever make of him a good 
Christian.'' * 

The fact is, that in seeking to reform the criminal we have 
acted much as the surgeon does who would try to straighten 
a withered limb — we have begun too late. The subject has 
been allowed first to reach a stage beyond the action of our 
healing process. To be efficacious, our treatment should have 
been applied when the limb was susceptible ; in other words, 
if we would eliminate the dangerous classes, and stop recruit- 
ing for their ranks, we must act against them in the 
earlier stages : as children, that is to say, through education, 
reformatories, and industrial schools. 

But the Millbank committee were sanguine still, in 1838, 
when Mr. Nihil came into power under them. We shall see 
now how far their agent, having caiie hlanche, and every 
facility, prospered in this difficult mission. 

His real earnestness of purpose, and the thoroughness of 

* MM. Beaumont and De Tocqueville's Keport on the Penitentiaries 
of the United States. 


Ms convictions, are incontestable. Immediately on assuming 
the reins lie applies himself with all the energy of his evidently 
vigorous mind to the task before him, seeking at once to 
imbue his subordinates with something of his own spirit, and 
proclaiming in plain terms, to both officers and prisoners, his 
conception of the proper character of the institution he was 
called upon to rule. He considers it " a penal establishment,, 
constituted with a view to the real reformation of convicts 
through the instrumentality of moral and religious means ; " 
and I find in the official records the following entry, wherein 
he intimates his views, and appeals to those under him for 
co-operation and support.* 

" Having, in my capacity of chaplain, observed the 
injurious effects arising from a habit which appeai-s pre- 
valent among the inferior officers, of regarding our religious 
rules as empty forms, got up for the sole purpose of prison 
discipline, and conceiving it right to let them understand 
the principles on which I propose to administer the prison, I 
drew up, and have since circulated, the following intimation : 
" Having been appointed governor of this institution, I 
desire to express to the inferior officers my earnest and sincere 
hope that they will one and all bear in mind the objects of a 
penitentiary. The reformation of persons who have been 
engaged in criminal acts and habits is the most difficult work 
in the world. God alone, who rules the heart, can accomplish 
it • but God requires means to be used by man, and amongst 
the means used here, none are more important than the treat- 
ment of prisoners by the officers in charge of them. That 
treatment should always by regulated by religious principles. 
It should be mild, yet firm, just, impartial, and steady. In 
delivering orders to prisoners, care should be taken to avoid 
unnecessary offence and irritation, at the same time that 
those orders are marked by authority. Command of temper 
should be particularly cultivated. The rules require certain 
religious observance. It is of the greatest importance that 
the officers should always remember the reverence whioh 
belongs to sacred things, otherwise the prisoners will be apt 
to regard them not as religious services, but as matters of 
* Governor's Journal, l&fc May, 1837. 


prison discipline. It should appear that "officers have a concern 
in religion themselves, and love and venerate it for its own 
sake. I do not by any means wish them to put on an 
appearance of religion which they do not feel — that would 
be hypocrisy, but I wish them, as members of a religious 
institution, to cultivate the feeling and demeanour of true 
Christians — not only for the sake of the prisoners under 
their charge, but for their own/' 

That the intention of this order was of the best no one 
who reads it can deny ; but its provisions were fraught with 
mischievous consequences, as will soon appear. It struck at 
the root of all discipline. The prisoners were insubordinate 
and insolent, and needed peremptory measures to keep them 
in check ; they were already only too much disposed to give 
themselves airs, and quite absurdly puffed up with an_ idea of 
their own importance. In all this they were now to be 
directly encouraged : for although the order in question was 
not made known to them in so many words, they were quick- 
witted enough, as they alv/ays are, to detect the altered 
attitude of their masters. These masters were such, however, 
only in name; and one of them within a month complains 
rather bitterly that he is worse off than a prisoner. The 
•latter, if charged with an offence, need only deny it and it fell 
to the ground, while a prisoner might say what he liked 
against an officer and it could not be refuted. The governor 
did not at first see how injudicious it was to weaken the 
authority of his subordinates, and continued to inculcate 
mildness of demeanour. In a serious case of disturbance, 
where several prisoners were most turbulent and needed 
summary repression, he takes a very old warder to task for his 
unnecessaiy severity. One of these mutineers, whom they 
had been obliged to remove by force, cried, " You have 
almost killed me,'' though nothing of the kind had occurred. 
This officer was injudicious enough to reply, ''You deserve 
killing." Upon this Mr. Nihil, as I find it recorded, states, 
" I thought it necessary to reprove the warder for such 
language. If the prisoners are to be properly managed, it is 
by authority administered with firmness, and guided, not by 
passion, but by reason and principle." No one could wish to 


countenance anytliing like brutality or unnecessary harshness 
of demeanour; but when discipline is defied, and the peace 
and good order of the prison placed in jeopardy, there might 
surely be some excuse for this warder's words, and less so for 
such a severe reproof. 

Later he issued the following order : " In consequence of 
what the governor has sometimes observed, he wishes to 
impress on the inferior oflficers the importance of coolness and 
command of temper in the management of prisoners. . . . 
Cases will, of course, arise when prisoners by their violence 
give much provocation. At such times it is particularly 
necessary that the officers should endeavour to maintain 
calmness and self-possession. The best way is to use as few 
words as possible, taking care at the same time to adopt the 
necessary means of securing a refractory prisoner ; but to fall 
into a passion, or to enter into a war of words, only lowers the 
authority of the officer, and adds to the irritation it is intended 
to allay.''' Excellent advice, but not always easily followed. 
However much it is right to hold in check wrong-headed zeal, 
which is in danger of boiling over, the repression and the 
caution to the officials should be privately administered. No 
inkling of it should reach the prisoners themselves : for what 
weakens authority necessarily strengthens the hands of those 
in subjection. Strangely enough the governor did not himself 
realise the force of this reasoning, though he inadvertently 
admits it. He had not been two months in office before he 
comments on the relaxation of discipline observable in the 
prison. " Therprisoners have no notion of their own position, 
and look upon every act of an officer by which regularity ia 
enforced as a crying grievance which they are called upon to 
resent.''^ * 

Indeed, the condition of these officers was hardly to be 
envied. They were mostly men of the camp, soldiers who had 
served their time in the army, and fitted neither by previous 
training nor the habits of their mind for the task required of 
them now. Mr. Nihil, to be fully served and seconded in his 
conscientious efforts to effect reformation, should have been 
provided with a staff of missionaries ; though these were 
• Journal, January 31, 1838. 


hardly to be got for the money, nor would they have been 
found of much assistance in carrying out the discipline of the 
prison. As it was, the warders had to choose between 
becoming hypocrites^ or running the risk of daily charges of 
irreligious impropriety, and of losing their situations alto- 
gether. Placed thus from the first in a false position, there 
was some excuse for them in their shortcomings. Not 
strangely many went with the stream, and sought to obtain 
credit with their chief by professing piety whether they felt it 
or no, using Scripture phrases, and parading in the pentagons 
and ward passages with Bibles carried ostentatiously under 
their arms, though it could be proved, and was, that many of 
the same men, when safe beyond the walls, were notorious for 
debauchery and looseness of life. It was in these days that a 
curious epithet came to distinguish all who were known as the 
chaplain's men. They were called in the thieves' argot 
" Pantilers," and the title sticks to them still. The " pantile," 
according to the slang dictionary, from which I must perforce 
quote, was the broad-brimmed hat worn by the Puritans of old. 
From this strange origin is derived a word which, with the 
lower orders, is synonymous still with cant and a hypocritical 
profession of religion to serve base ends. Millbank was long 
known as the head-quarters of the " Pantilers.'" 

On the other hand, officers in whoni the old mammon was 
too strong to be stifled altogether, occasionally forgot them- 
selves, and when accused or suspected of unorthodoxy or 
unbelief they naturally went to the wall. Thus it was not 
likely that one who was reported to be a confirmed infidel 
would escape instant dismissal ; though in this instance the 
information was laid by a prisoner, and should at least havo 
been received with caution. The substance of the complaint- 
made by the prisoner was that the officer had asserted that the 
nature of man was sinful, but that the worst man that ever 
lived was no worse than God had made him, with other 
remarks of a carping and irreverent character. Mr, Nihil 
immediately sent for both officer and prisoner, and confronted 
them together, questioning the former as follows : 

" Mr. Mann, are you a member of the Church of 
England ? " 


"No, sir." 

" To what church, then, do you belong ? " 

" I was brought up a baptist, sir ; but I am not a member 
of any society at present/'' 

" Are you a believer in the Scriptures ? " 

"1 would rather not enter into that subject/^ 

" Did you not represent yourself a member of the Church 
of England when first employed ? " 

" I did not. I was never asked the question." 

He was then asked if he had ever tried to controvert the 
religion of the Penitentiary, but he distinctly denied haviug 
done so. 

Then came the prisoner's turn. 

"I assure you, sir,-" he told Mr. Nihil, " that this ofiicer on 
one occasion remarked to me that St. Paul took up several 
chapters in telling women what sort of ribbons they wore in 
their bonnets." And on this evidence Mr. Mann lost his 
situation ; for, says the governor, " I considered his answers 
evasive throughout ; while the prisoner being an exceedingly 
well-conducted man, I have no doubt, from the tenour of the 
whole proceedings, that he spoke the truth." Hard measure 
this, and scarcely calculated to maintain the discipline of the 

Still harder, perhaps, was the dismissal of another officer, 
who was found using what was characterised as a species of 
low slang in speaking of prisoners. "It came out very 
artlessly," says Mr. Nihil, "as he was telling me of some 
boyish irregularity of a prisoner, whom he styled a 'rascal.' 
This, coupled with other appearances, determined me that the 
man may have meant no great harm, but that he was quite 
unfit for the moral charge here entrusted to him ; and I thought 
it necessary, not only in regard to this offence, but that others 
might take a lesson from it, to mark my sense of the unfitness 
of one in the habit of familiarly using such language for the 
situation of warder." When a fate so severe overtook these 
two for the offences recorded, a third was not likely to escape 
who was proved to have occasionally sworn, and who admitted 
that he considered it was all humbug taking the prisoners to 
chapel. Although this culprit held the grade of taskmaster, 

M 2 


and had completed a service of many years^ lie too was forth- 
with sent about his business. But then it was brought home 
to him that he had once been heard to say, "The governor 

thinks himself a sharp fellow — I think him the fool I ever 

knew." It also appeared that this officer's familiar language 
among other officers was very profane. He sometimes ridiculed 
religion; and at one time scoffed at the miracle of the sun 
standing still. On another he spoke of the chaplain's lectures 
as humbug. '^ My own impressions of T,/' goes on the governor, 
" were that though he was an efficient officer, he was a conceited 
self-sufficient man, and of his moral principles I had no good 
opinion. Everything led to the conviction that he was a very 
dangerous character in an institution of this kind ; his general 
bearing giving him influence over the inferior officers, and his 
principles and habits being such as to turn that influence to 
pernicious account." He was accordingly dismissed by the 
committee '' with the strongest reprobation of his abominable 

Although thus studiously bent upon raising the moral 
tone of his officers, in many other respects, hardly of 
inferior importance, the utmost laxity prevailed. The rules 
by which the Penitentiary was governed, and by which all 
undue familiarity between officers and prisoners was 
strictly prohibited; which forbade certain luxuries, such as 
tobacco, ardent spirits, and the morning papers ; and which 
insisted upon certain principles to ensure the safe custody 
of those confined — all these were often contravened or 
neglected. Upon no one point are gaolers bound to be 
more vigilant and circumspect than in the security of their 
keys. In all well-ordered prisons now the most stringent 
rules prevail on this head. To lose a key entails exemplary 
punishment, heavy fines, or immediate dismissal. Tet in 
these old Millbank days I find an officer coolly lending 
his keys to a prisoner to let himself in and out of his 
ward; and another who wakes up in the morning without 
them, asserts at once that they have been stolen from him 
in the night. In this latter case instant search was made, 
and after a long delay one key was found in the ventilator 
of a prisoner's cell, and below his window, outside, the 


remaining three. This man was of course accused of the 
theft; and a circumstantial story at once invented, of his 
escaping after school, repairing to the tower, and possessing 
himself of the keys. He would infallibly have suffered 
for the offence, had it not been accidentally discovered 
that the officer who had lost them was drunk and incapable 
on the night in question, and had himself dropped them 
from his pocket. There were again escapes twice over, 
which though ingeniously conceived and carried out could 
never have succeeded but for a want of watchfulness and 
supervision on the part of the officer. Of the improper 
intimacy there could be little doubt, when it was proved 
that officers and old prisoners were seen in company at 
public-houses — the latter standing treat, and supplying 
bribes freely, to compass the conveyance to their friends, 
still inside, of the luxuries prohibited by the rules. All 
this came out one fine day, when it was discovered that, 
through the connivance of certain dishonest warders, several 
prisoners had been regularly supplied with magazines 
and morning newspapers. Wine, spirits, and eatables more 
toothsome than the prison fare, and the much-loved weed, 
found their way into the prison by the same reprehensible 
means. It is but fair to add here, that in this and in every 
other case, as soon as the irregularities referred to were brought 
to light, they were invariably visited with the condemnation 
they deserved. 

Even a man of shrewd intelligence like Mr. Nihil could 
not fail to be occasionally taken in. On one or two points 
he was especially vulnerable. Signs of repentance, real 
or feigned, won from him at once an earnest sympathy which 
not seldom proved to be cruelly misplaced. There was also 
a certain simplicity about him, and want of experience, that 
sometimes made him the dupe of his subordinates when they 
tried to curry favour by exaggerating the sufferings of the 
prisoners. One day when he was e?i route to the dark cells, 
intending to pardon a culprit therein confined, the taskmaster 
who accompanied him voluntarily observed : " You are quite 
right to release him, sir. His legs would get affected, I am 
afraid, if he were left there any time, like all the rest." 


" What do you mean by tliat ? " asked tlie governor at 
once. " Explain." 

" I mean, sir, tliat wlienever a prisoner is kept any length 
of time in the dark, his loins are always affected. It may be 
seen in their walk. Take the case of Welsh. Welsh is quite 
crippled from being so much in the dark.'^ 

*' Do they never recover it ? " 

'' Never.'' 

Mr. Nihil was naturally much struck with this observa- 
tion, and gave it credence, " thinking the officer's opinion 
worth attention, as he is particularly shrewd and intelligent." 
Bat on consulting the medical man of the establishment, he 
found the statement quite without foundation. Nothing of 
the kind ever happened ; there was nothing the matter with 
Welsh, and never had been. It was all pure nonsense. 

Then there was the case of Stokes, a boy continually in 
mischief, an arrant young villain, who coolly tells the governor 
that it is no use sending him to the dark — the dark only 
makes him worse. "I reminded him that I had often tried 
kind and gentle methods with him in vain, and asked him 
what would make him better." Stokes replied that the only 
thing to cure him would be a good sound flogging — knowing 
full well that this was not possible to inflict except for certain 
offences, all of which he studiously avoided. Three days later 
when liberated from the dark, to which he had been sent in 
default of corporal punishment, he tried a fresh tack with 
Mr. Nihil. " This boy," he observes, '^ sent for me, and spoke 
as from the very abyss of conscious depravity. He complains 
of the hardness and wickedness of his heart. He thinks 
there is something wrong about him. He cried much. I 
urged him to pray, but he said his heart was too full — too full 
of wickedness to pray. I have promised to visit him in his 
cell, when I shall endeavour to soften and raise the tone 
of his mind, and pray with him." Of course his new attitude 
is all hypocritical deceit. Almost the next day he breaks out 
in conduct more disorderly than ever, and after smashing his 
window, spends his time in shouting to the prisoners below. 
Tbe governor, now alive to his real character, declares " that 
the injury done to the discipline of the prison by the perpetual 


insubordination of this boy has become so serious, that I think 
he must be sent up to the committee as incorrigible.-'^ 
Again he wavers, and again he changes his^ mind. "John 
Stokes applied to me yesterday evening, and spoke so 
sensibly, with such an appearance of a sincere desire for 
reformation, that I must beg to suspend my recommendation 
for his removal to the hulks. The result of such removal 
would probably be to consign him to the destroying influences 
of the worst companions.''' Stokes did not remain long 
in this way of thinking, and continued still to be a thorn in 
the governor's side for many a month to come. 

But we have in this an instance of the extreme pains 
Mr. Nihil was at to do his duty conscientiously by all. And 
if he had sometimes to deal with designing hypocrites, he was 
not always wrong — at least in cases like the following, the 
imposture, if any, was well concealed. 

A woman comes forward of her own accord to confess that 
she had made a false charge against another prisoner. 

" What led you to make the charge ? " (She had accused 
the other of calling her names.) 

" Spite." 

" And what leads you now to confess ? " 

" I was so much impressed by the sermon I heard yester- 
day from the strange gentleman.' ' 

The governor admits that it was a most impressive dis- 
course, well calculated to awaken the guilty conscience. 
" Being anxious," he says, " to foster every symptom of 
repentance, I did not punish this woman. She freely 
acknowledged she deserved to be punished, but I thought 
it might tend to repress good feeling were I, under the 
circumstances, to act with rigour." 

Another woman, named Alice Bradley, sent for the 
governor, and told him that she had put down her name for 
the sacrament, but that she could not feel happy till she had 
told him all the truth. 

" I encouraged her to make the communication, whereupon, 
with a subdued voice and many tears, she said : 

" ' I was guilty of what I was sent here for.' " 

" This girl had invariably," goes on Mr. Nihil, " with much 


appearance of a tender conscience, and a spirit wounded by 
injustice, protested her innocence. This perseverance in her 
protestations had now lasted six months, and it appeared that 
the girl had iraposed a persuasion o£ her innocence on her 
nearest relations. I was much gratified with the contrition 
that was now developed under the system of this place, so 
consolatory amidst the numerous instances of a contrary 
description which we daily [witness ; and I endeavoured to 
trace the prisoner's impression to some distinct instru- 
mentality, which might i[be improved to further usefulness. 
She could only attribute her recent feelings to prayer — 
doubtless the most genuine and satisfactory source from 
which a contrite disposition can be derived, far beyond 
sermons, or conversation, or any extraneous stimulus." 

Again, there was the case of George Cubitt, who had been 
extremely well-conducted since he came to the Penitentiary. 
" He looks ill, and much altered within a short time, and 
seems much distressed. He told me he had of late been 
affected with the most dreadfully wicked thoughts, that he 
had a strong temptation to sell himself to the devil, and 
feared he had done so. That, on Friday week, when in bed, 
he was much oppressed with these thoughts, which he long 
resisted, but at last gave way, and made an oath to 
himself to sell himself. He got up immediately, and felt a 
chill all over him, as if his nature was quite changed. Ever 
since he has been subject to the most shocking thoughts and 
fears. He attributed the calamity to his having been alone, 
and seemed to dread the idea of returning to a cell by 
himself. I see no signs of pretence about this boy, and 
greatly pity him. His nerves have evidently been shaken by 
confinement. I prayed with him, and said what I could to 
dissipate his terrors, and bade him make the goodness of God 
his protection. I could wish that in a case of this kind the 
discipline of the prison admitted of a little labour in the 
garden ; but I see great practical difficulties in making 
practical arrangements for the purpose." 

Of course Mr. Nihil was in his element in dealing with a 
case of this kind; just as the following claimed at once the 
whole of his sympathy and attention. 


A prisoner was seized suddenly with an attack of hydro- 
phobia. The only cause known was that he had been badly 
bitten by a dog six or seven years before. " The poor 
patient was in a most distressing state, being a fine intelligent 
youth, and in an admirable spirit of Christian resigna- 
tion. He observed to me repeatedly that he was a poor 
friendless boy, and that this was a wise and merciful 
providence, for if he lived to get his liberty he might get 
into trouble and come to a bad end. When I saw him 
next morning, most edifying was the whole tenour of his 
observations and his prayers. That night he grew to be- 
in a state of high excitement, continually imploring me and 
every one for tea, while unable to taste a drop out of a basin 
which he held in his hand. About midnight he took a turn — 
no longer expressed any bodily want, but, as from a mind 
stored with Scriptural truths, poured out the most appropriate 
ideas and expressions, though in a raving and delirious 
manner. It was most gratifying to observe the just views he 
exhibited, and the expressions of his deep repentance and 
humility. But dreadful to our feelings was the succeeding 
phasis which his disorder assumed. He seemed to struggle 
with a deadly foe, beating about his arms, and striving with 
incessant violence, while he uttered the language of abhorrence 
towards his enemy. Then, after a while, he began to give 
utterance to the most senselessly obscene and filthy language 
and ideas, nor were we able to repress them ; but with these 
were mixed pleasing expressions of a pious, confiding tendency. 
This mixed and incongruous exhibition continued till about 
3 A.M., when he sunk into death." 

Even if it could have been proved against Mr. Nihil that 
he was lacking in the resolute peremptoriness of persons 
bred to command, our chaplain-governor was, however, not 
wanting in many of the qualities of a good administrator. 
It must be recorded to his credit that he brought in many 
reforms, of which time has since proved the wisdom. There 
was for instance the change he instituted in the system of 
hearing and adjudicating upon charges of misconduct. It 
had been the custom for the governor to rush off post-haste 
to the scene of action, and then and there administer justice. 


Now, Mr. Nihil resolved to take " tlie reports " tlie same hour 
every morning, " thereby economising time, and having the 
advantage of previous calm consideration. Besides,'^ he says, 
" officers and prisoners are both much irritated when the 
offence is still fresh, and the frequent interruptions took the 
governor often away from other subjects which at the time 
had full possession of his mind." Again, after a daring and 
successful escape, he recommends that evei'y prisoner at night 
should be obliged to put outside his cell gate all the tools, etc., 
with which he has been at work during the day. An obvious 
precaution, perhaps, which is the invariable rule now with all 
men, especially '^ prison breakers," * but the necessity of it 
was not recognised till Mr. Nihil found it out. Although in 
his management of his officers he erred rather in being too 
anxious to obtain a standard of impossible morality, still he 
knew that more than mere admonition was needed to maintain 
order and obedience to the regulations. With this in view he 
instituted a system of fines, as the best method of ensuring 
punctuality and exact discharge of duties. It is really a 
marvel how the Penitentiary had been governed for so long 
without it. Nor did his tenderness and solicitude for the 
spiritual welfare of the prisoners prevent his entering a sound 
protest against over-much pampering them in food. " I have 
frequent occasion to observe," he remarks in one part of his 
Journal, '^the extreme sauciness of prisoners with regard to 
their victuals. It appears from Mr. Chadwick's report, and 
the evidence that he collected, that the industrious labourers 
are the worst fed ; the next best are the poor-house paupers ; 
the next, convicts for petty thefts ; the best are felons, with 
the exception of transports, who are still more abundantly 
supplied abroad. The idle and the profligate act upon the 
knowledge of these facts, and we have in the Penitentiary 
several of that description. Their fastidiousness and im- 
pertinence strangely illustrate the fact that our diet is much 
too high for the purposes of a prison." 

Certainly the calls upon his time were many and various. 
Now for the first time, in consequence of the great complaints 
made against the county gaols, " arising chiefly from the want 
* Men who have attempted to escape. 


of separate cells/' tlie Penitentiary became tlie receptacle for 
soldiers sentenced to imprisonment by court-martial. And 
with, the introduction of this new element he brought about 
his ears a crowd of new questions and new difficulties — a 
different dietary scale, different labour, and a great accession 
of misconduct of a new description ; above all, new officials to 
deal with, and plenty of punctilious red-tapeism, to which, as a 
civilian, he was altogether unaccustomed. Then, through 
strong representations made to Government of the scandalous 
manner in which, female transports were shipped off to the 
penal colonies, it was decided that most of those who came 
from a distance should be lodged in Millbank to await 
embarkation. All these women were the scum of the earth, 
and added greatly to the governor's trials. They came to the 
Penitentiary in a miserable state of rags and wretchedness, 
shoeless, shiftless, and filthy.* They were often accompanied 
by their children of all ages, from infancy to fourteen or 
fifteen years ; and in nearly every case the conduct of all was 
violent and outrageous beyond description. Knowing they 
had nothing to gain by a conformity to the rules of the 
establishment, and that by no possibility could they escape 
transportation, they gave vent to their evil passions and set 
all authority at defiance. In the next chapter but one, which 
1 shall devote entirely to the female convicts, I shall be able to 
give more than one instance of the annoyance they occasioned 
to all, but especially to Mr, Nihil. 

Another vexation, which pressed perhaps more sorely on 
him tban any I have described, was the invasion of his 

* The mode in whichi the female convicts were brought to embark 
was very objectionable. They arrived from the country in small parties 
at irregular intervals, travelling by stage coach, smack, or hoy, under 
charge of a turnkey; ai'riving and coming alongside in a wherry, way- 
worn and ill, a bundle of insufficient clothing their only provision for 
the voyage, and accompanied generally by destitute children. In one 
case the women arrived, not merely handcuffed, but with heavy irons 
on their legs, which had occasioned swelling, and even serious inflamma- 
tion. Eleven came with iron hoops round their legs and arms, chained 
to each other. During their journey by coach, they were not allowed 
to get up or down unless the whole did so together. Some had children 
to carry, but they received no help or alleviation to their suffering. — 
Memoir of Mrs. Fry, 


territory by a Eoman Catholic clergyman, appointed under 
a recent Act of Parliament to visit Eoman Catholic prisoners. 
I do not suppose that Mr. Nihil was more intolerant than were 
others of his cloth in those days, when antagonism between 
creeds ran unusually high, and there is much excuse for the 
remarks he makes on the subject. By the Act provision was 
made for the payment of the priest from the prison fund. 
This Mr, Nihil characterises as tantamount to " establishment." 
He does not see the necessity for anything of the kind, 
especially as the scruples of all the Roman Catholic prisoners 
have hitherto been most punctiliously respected. 

Then Mr. Nihil went on to raise a number of points, few 
of which happily came to an issue : How was the priest to be 
appointed ? by whom approved ? When appointed, would not 
his office be co-ordinate with that of the resident chaplain ? 
Where was the line to be drawn with respect to discipline ? 
Would not friction and difficulty arise from the Roman 
Catholic prisoners placing themselves under the patronage of 
the Roman Catholic priest in opposition to the governing 
authority of the prison ? 

" If a Roman Catholic priest visits prisoners under the 
permission at present accorded, he sees them at the task- 
master's tower, to which they are brought. If he becomes a 
regular officer of the prison he will have free access to the 
wards and infirmaries; and every o'ne conversant with our 
present system and the spirit of comparison excited by every 
little distinction, must see that the presence of a rival chaplain 
is likely to produce a controversial habit among the prisoners, 
than which few things would be more baneful. I anticipate 
nothing less than that many of them will be constantly 
changing their religion according as it suits their caprice to see 
one chaplain or the other, with the view to annoy the authorities. 
The visitors are aware how apt prisoners are to indulge their 
restlessness by applying to see those whom the rules entitle 
them to see, when there is really nothing wanting. The 
additional officer will enlarge this opportunity, and it is obvious 
how much it will be in the power of a Roman Catholic 
chaplain, under the circumstances, to foster a spirit of 
proselytism, in which, indeed, he will have a pecuniary 


interest — Ms appointment depending on number. The most 
popular chaplain in the prison — the man who will have 
most followers — will undoubtedly be the one who affords 
most encouragement to the prisoners, and does most to 
paralyse the authority o£ the officer in charge of them/' 

Happily, as I have said, these anticipations proved almost 
groundless, and, except in one or two trivial instances, which 
are hardly worth recording, no evil results followed the 
occasional admission of the priest to the Pentientiary. 




The most positive annoyance of all the anxieties that weighed 
upon Governor Nihil in these days, was the deportment of a 
certain Pickard Smith, who seemed more than a match for 
all the authority of the place. His case is interesting as an 
example of the length to which a prisoner can go, even 
in times when better influences were, it was hoped, at work 
with all. 

On the day of his arrival at the Penitentiary in the name 
of Smith, it was discovered that he had been there before 
as Pickard, when he was known for notorious misconduct, 
though towards the end of his sentence ^^he had assumed 
the appearance of reformation.'^ On his recommittal he was 
at first quiet and amenable to discipline, but he seemed ta 
have conceived suddenly a desire to be sent abroad. From 


henceforth his conduct was detestable. At length he destroys 
everything in his cell : f urniture^ clothing, glass, books, 
including " Bishop Green's Discourses," and then he endeavours 
to brain the officer who comes to expostulate. " If I am to 
go to the dark, I may as well go for something," he says, and 
after he has been removed it was found that he had written 
the following lines on the back of his cell door : — 

" London is the place where I was bred and born, 
N'ewgate has been too often my situation, 
The Penitentiary has been too often my dwelling-place, 
And 'New South Wales is my expectation." 

Not a very high poetical flight, to which the governor- 
chaplain remained insensible, and had the poet forthwith 

The magistrate came as before from the nearest police 
office, for the express purpose of passing sentence. Seventy- 
five lashes out of three hundred ordered were inflicted, 
greatly to the benefit of other unruly prisoners, all of whom 
were brought out to witness the punishment. '^ They 
appeared much subdued in spirit," says Mr. Nihil, and for 
some days afterwards the prison exhibited quite an altered 
character. But upon the culprit himself the sentence had 
no effect whatever. He spends his time from that day forth 
in whistling, idleness, and impertinence, sometimes in his 
own cell, oftener in the dark. His insolence grows more and 
more insupportable; he tells the governor to hold his jaw, 
and his warder to go about his business. One fine morning 
it is found that he is gone. His cell is empty. He has 

" The mode of escape was most ingenious, daring, and 
masterly, though the prisoner is only eighteen years of age. 
There was a combination of sagacity, courage, and ready 
resource, indicating extraordinary powers, both mental and 

He had got, unknown to his officer, an iron pin used for 
turning the handle of the ventilator of the stove. The stove 
not being in use the handle was not missed. The prisoner was 
let out of his cell by himself, being kept apart from other 


prisoners " in consequence of frequent insubordination and the 
mischievous tendency of his example.'^ With this pin he had 
made a hole in the brick arch which formed the roof of his 
cell large enough to admit his body. The iron pin, stuck into 
one of the slits for ventilation in the wall, served as a hook, to 
which he had probably suspended a small ladder, ingeniously 
constructed of shreds of cotton and coarse thread (which was 
found in the roof) ; and with such assistance to his own 
activity and strength he had got through the ceiling and into 
the roof, along the interior of which he had proceeded some 
distance, till he was able at length to break a hole in the 
slates. But the battens to which the slates were fastened 
were too narrow to let him through, so he travelled on till he 
found others wider apart, and here, making a second hole, he 
contrived to get out on to the roof. The descent was his next 
difficulty, but he had provided for this by carrrying with him 
a number of suitable articles to assist him in his purpose. It 
must be mentioned that he had chosen his time well : not 
only were the officers later coming in on Sunday mornings, 
but on Saturday evenings the prisoners receive their clean 
clothes (their dirty ones were not returned till next morning), 
so that Smith had in his cell two sets of things — two shirts, 
two pairs of long stockings, and two handkerchiefs. He had 
washed his feet also on Saturday night, and had been given a 
round towel to dry them. Having torn his blankets and rugs 
into strips, he had sewn them together by lengths, making 
each, like the round towel, a link in a chain to which his 
neckerchiefs and pocket-handkerchiefs, similarly prepared, 
added further lengths. With all of these, and attired in his 
clean shirt, he had ascended as already described to the roof, 
where he must have found his chain too short, for he had 
added his shirt to the apparatus. This rope he fastened to one 
of the rafters of the roof, and then slung himself down to 
where he judged the attic window was to be found, and he 
judged accurately. The sill of the window formed the first 
stage, and to its bars he fastened part of his chain, thus 
economising its length, instead of having one long rope from 
the roof downwards. Descending in like manner to the 
second window he repeated the process, and again to the third 


(or first floor), after which he reached the ground in safety. 
His next difficulty was to scale the boundary wall. Much 
work happened to be going on, rebuilding the parts destroyed 
by fire, and a quantity of masons' and carpenters' materials 
were lying about. First he contrived to remove a long and 
prodigiously heavy ladder from against the scaffolding, which 
two men ordinarily could not carry, and this he dragged to the 
iron fence of the burial ground, against which he rested it, but 
he could not rear it the whole height of the boundary wall. 
Next he got two planks, and lashing them firmly together with 
a rope he picked up, he thus made an inclined plane long 
enough to allow of his walking up it to the top of the wall. 
Weighting one end with a heavy stone, he easily got the 
planking on to the wall and thus got over. 

As soon as the escape was discovered immediate search 
was made in all adjoining lurking-places. Officers acquainted 
with Pickard's haunts were despatched to a far-off part of the 
town, information was lodged at Bow Street, and a reward of 
£50 offered by authority of the Secretary of State. He was 
eventually recaptured through the connivance of his relatives. 
Soon anonymous letters reached the governor, offering to give 
the fugitive up for the reward. A confidential officer was 
despatched to a concerted place of meeting, and by the 
assistance of the police — and his own friends — Pickard Smith 
was secured and brought back to the Penitentiary. Mr. Nihil 
was much exercised in spirit at his return. It appeared that 
he belonged to a family which had been all transported. He 
came to the Penitentiary himself as a boy, and grew up in it to 
manhood. Five months after his release he was again 
convicted, under a new name, and sent back to Millbank. 
" Had it been known that the benevolent system of the 
Penitentiary had been previously tried in vain upon him, he 
would not probably have been sent here a second time. It is 
plain that he was not a fit subject for it, and his previous 
experience within our walls, and probable acquaintance with 
their exterior localities, acquired during the interval of his 
freedom, rendered him a dangerous inmate. After his 
flogging continued misconduct rendered it necessary to keep 
him apart from other prisoners — a circumstance which 


facilitated tliose operations by whicli he lately accomplislied 
his escape. It is now highly dangerous to keep him in the 
same ward with other prisoners, our means of preventing 
intercourse being extremely inadequate. On the other hand, 
conversant as he is with the localities of the prison, aware of 
the aid to be derived from the materials strewed about in 
consequence of the extensive repairs after the late fire, and 
flushed with his former success, it becomes no less objec- 
tionable to place him apart where he may be less liable to any 
interruption in any attempt he may make. A man of his 
capabilities ought not to be kept in a prison with so low a 
boundary wall as ours. I do not fear his escape, watched as 
he now will be, but I fear his attempts.^^ * 

Nevertheless, though repeated efforts were made to get 
this prisoner removed to the hulks or to some other prison, 
the Secretary of State would not give his consent. He said 
it would be considered discreditable to the Penitentiary if 
prisoners were transferred on account of its inability to 
secure them. Why not chain him heavily ? asks the Secre- 
tary of State. " Why not ? " replies Mr. Nihil. " Because 
if he is prosecuted and receives an additional sentence of 
three years, we cannot keep him all his time in chains. The 
peculiarity of our system,^' goes on the governor, "hardly 
appears to be considered as an objection to his continuance 
here. The principle of the Penitentiary was that it was 
not merely a place of safe custody and punishment, but 
a place of reformation ; and, therefore, if it failed of this 
latter object in any instance, a power was reserved of 
sending away the prisoner as incorrigible, for fear of his 
interfering with the progress of the system among other 
prisoners.^' Next day he was told he would have to remain 
three years extra in the Penitentiary, wherepon he promised, 
of his own accord, to abstain from making any further 
attempts at escape, provided he were allowed to go among 
the other prisoners. He was so much more tractable and so 
much improved in temper that his request was granted, and 
he was brought once more under ordinary discipline. 

Having remained quiet for a month or more, just to lull 
* Journal, August 9tli, 1837. 


suspicion, lie is again discovered — and just in the nick of 
time — to be on the verge of a second evasion. The window 
of his cell is found to have the screws taken out, with other 
suspicious symptoms. Smith declared that the state of his 
window was the result of accident. He was removed to 
another cell, and Mr, Nihil himself proceeded to examine the 
one he had left. His hammock when unlashed revealed the 
state of his rag and blankets. They had been torn up into 
convenient strips for scaling purposes. When the prisoner 
was himself searched, between his stockings and the soles of 
his feet were pieces of flannel, and in one of them was a small 
piece of metal, ingeniously formed into a kind of picklock. A 
piece of iron, for this purpose no doubt, was missed from one 
side of the cell window. He was placed in the infirmary 
'' strong room ^' for safety ; then apart in F gallery by day, 
sleeping at night in a small cell below. But soon he 
destroyed everything in F gallery, and then he was hand- 
cuffed. " His next method of disturbance was to make a 
violent noise by beating with his handcuffs against the door ; 
upon which I ordered him to be removed to a dark cell, not 
for punishment, but to prevent disturbance." Presently a 
noise of loud hammering is heard in this same dark cell. The 
officers on duty rushed to the spot, and found that by some 
extraordinary contrivance Smith had possessed himself of one 
the staples by which the ironwork is made fast on the back 
of the door to the dark cell. By means of this instrument he 
had worked away an iron grating fixed for ventilation, and 
had been engaged making a hole in the wall by which he 
would have soon escaped. Smith was handcuffed and taken 
to another cell. 

The governor is almost bewildered, and begs the com- 
mittee to get rid of this prisoner. It would be inexpedient 
to place him among other prisoners, and yet that can hardly 
be avoided soon, owing to the influx of military and other 
prisoners. "As to corporal punishment, he has already 
experienced it very severely without any beneficial effect. 
His knowledge of the localities, and the present unsafe con- 
dition of the prison, owing to the extensive repairs, will breed 
perpetual attempts, however unsuccessful, to escape." 

N 2 


Soon afterwards Smith, asked to be relieved from his 
handcuffs. " What's the good of keeping them on me ? I 
can always get *em off with an hour's work." He was told 
they would be fastened behind his back. " I can slip them in 
front ; you know that/' 

'^ I threatened^ then/' says Mr. Nihil, ^' to fetter his 
arms as well as his hands, and that seemed to baffle him.- 
To-day I held a long conversation with him, and cannot 
but lament that the powerful qualities he possesses should 
have been so greatly perverted. He spoke with great candour 
of his former courses. He exhibited an affectation of religious 
impressions, though he acknowledged much the evil of his own 
character. By-and-by I asked him if he wished to have the 
handcuffs taken off. He did, much, because they made 
him feel so cold. ' Will you promise ii I take them off not to 
attempt to escape ? ' ' I'll never make another promise as 
long as I am here. I have made one too many, and I am 
ashamed of myself for having broken it.' ' What am I to do 
with you ? Where am I to send you ? ' ' It's no use sending 
me anywhere, sir. If you let me go among the other prisoners 
I am satisfied ; from what I know of the place, there isn't a 
part from which I couldn't escape.' " 

" Commiserating this unfortunate young man's condition, 
I subsequently ordered the handcuffs to be removed, but with 
a strict injunction frequently to examine his cell, particularly 
at night. While he is in the dark and closely watched I do 
not think the handcuffs indispensable." But Pickard Smith 
cannot remain for ever in the dark. Exercise in the open air 
becomes necessary, and the first time he is taken out is in a 
dense fog. Almost at once he eludes his officer's observation, 
and, slipping off his shoes, clambers up a low projecting wall 
that communicates with the boundary wall of the yard, mounts 
it, jumps over on the other side, and runs for the infirmary 
staircase where he hoped to hide. Fortunately the task- 
master, coming out of the tower, caught sight of his legs 
disappearing through the door, and running after him captured 
him on the stairs. The fellow was quite incorrigible. Again 
he goes to the dark, again and again is he released and 
recommitted, till at length his health breaks down. If in the 


end he was tamed, it was of his own failure of strength, and 
not of the discipline of the place. I believe he died in the 
Penitentiary a year or two later, but I have been unable to 
ifind any authentic record of the fact. 

I have lingered thus long over his story, which is at best 
but sad and disheartening, because it is a good illustration 
of the methods of coercion tried in those days in the Peni- 
tentiary, and more because it opens up the whole question 
of escapes from prison. Of course the convicted criminal 
shares with all other captives an ever-present unsatisfied 
longing to be free. Like a caged blackbird, or a rat in a 
trap, the felon who has lost his liberty will certainly escape 
whenever the opportunity is offered to him. To leave gates 
ajar, or to withdraw a customary guard, supply temptation 
as irresistible as a bone thrown to a hungry dog. And a 
prisoner's faculties are so sharp set by his confinement, 
that he sees chances which are invisible to his gaolers. 
A resolute and skilful man will brave all dangers, will 
exhibit untold patience and ingenuity, will endure pain and 
lengthened hardship, if he sees but a loophole for escape 
in the end. The fiction of Edmond Dantes and his famous 
escape from the Chateau d'lf, is but the embroidery of a 
poetical imagination working upon a sober groundwork of 
fact. The records of all ancient prisons could contribute 
their quota of similar legends, showing how the fugitive 
triumphed over difficulties seemingly insurmountable. Baron 
Trenck^s numerous escapes from Prussian fortresses, and 
Casanova's from the Piomhi, are familiar to us as household 

But in our modern days escapes are of rarer occurrence, 
and for many reasons. It is not that prisons are really 
more secure per se : so far as construction can be depended 
upon, a gaol like Newgate seems as safe as stone and iron can 
make it : but it is that the principles of security are better 
realised and understood. Our forefathers trusted to physical 
means, and thought enough was done. To-day our reliance 
is placed on the moral aid of continuous supervision. An 
escapade like that of Pickard Smith would be next to 
impossible now. He would have been defeated with his own 


weapons. To compass his ends a prisoner must liave privacy; 
hours of quiet undisturbed by the intrusive visit of a lynx- 
eyed official ; and a cell all to himself. He has now the cell 
to himself — at least he has with him no companion felon — 
but he is for ever tended by an '' old man of the mountain/* 
in the shape of his warder, who is always with him — '' turning 
him over,** as the prison slang calls it ; searching him, that is 
to say, several times a day, both his person and the cell he 
occupies. To conceal implements, to carry on works like the 
removal of bricks, of flooring, or of bars, is next to impossible^ 
or feasible only through a lack of vigilance for which the 
official in fault would be called seriously to account. How 
nearly the methods of ensm-ing safe custody have been 
reduced to a science may be seen any day now in our govern- 
ment prisons at places like Portland, Chatham, Portsmouth, 
and Dartmoor, where the convicts seem held, so to speak, 
only by a single thread. They work en plein air, in the open, 
miles beyond prison gates or boundary walls. The staff of 
officers in charge is less than ten per cent. ; no ostensible 
means of coercion are used; the prisoners, except in the case 
of half-a-dozen of the most turbulent, wear no chains. The 
whole system depends on the close observance of certain 
principles which have come to be regarded as axioms almost 
with the officials. No prisoner is allowed to be for one 
moment out of the officer's sight; that officer starts in the 
morning with a certain number of convicts in charge : he 
must bring in the same number on his return to the prison. 
Beyond the vigilant eye of these officers in charge of small 
parties ranges a wide cordon of warder-sentries, who are raised 
on high platforms and have an uninterrupted view around. A 
carefully prepared code of signals serves to give immediate 
notice of escape. A shrill note on the whistle, a single shot 
from a sentry's breechloader sounds the alarm — "A man 
gone ! " Next second, the whistles re-echo, shot answers shot; 
the parties are assembled in the twinkling of an eye, and a 
force of spare officers hasten at once to the point from whence 
came the first note of distress. It is next to impossible for 
the fugitive to get away : if he runs for it he is chased ; if he 
goes to ground they dig him out; if he takes to the water 


he is soon overliauled. The cases are few and far between of 
successful evasion. In every case the luck or the stratagem 
has been exceptional — as when at Chatham, a man was buried 
by his comrades brick by brick beneath a heap, and interment 
was complete before the man was missed ; or when at 
Dartmoor, another broke into the chaplain^s house, stole 
clothes, food, and a good horse, on which he rode triumphantly 

At Millbank from first to last the escapes, successful and 
unsuccessful, have been many and various. Pickard Smithes 
was not the first nor the last. The earliest on record occurred 
in April, 1831. One night about 10 p.m. it was reported to 
the governor that the rooms of three of the officers had been 
entered and a quantity of wearing apparel abstracted there- 
from. Almost at the same moment the sergeant patrol came 
in from the garden to say that the patrol on duty in going 
his rounds had discovered two men in the act of getting over 
the garden wall by means of a white rope, made of a cut 
of cross-over.f Both men were on the rope, and when it was 
shaken by the patrol they fell off and back into the garden ; 
but they attacked the officer, knocked him down, and then 
ran off in an opposite direction. The patrol, as soon as he 
could recover himself, gave the alarm, and presently the 
governor, chaplain, surgeon, steward, and a number of other 
officers arrived on the spot. They separated in parties to 
make search, while the governor took possession of the 
cross-over cut, which was fastened to the top of the wall by 
means of a large iron rake twisted into a hook. This rake 
was used in the ward for bringing out large cinders from 
the long stove. It was thought at first that, in the patrol's 
absence to give the alarm, the fugitives must have got over 
the wall ; but the search was continued in the dark, in and 

* The most amusing attempt was made at Millbank, by a convict, 
■with, the connivance of one of the maid-servants of a superior officer. 
Her master held also a place at Court, and wore at levees a handsome 
uniform of red and gold. The plot was to steal these clothes. Of 
course, thus arrayed, the convict could pass the gates without question; 
but I fancy that, once beyond them, his road would have led White- 
chapel way rather than to Buckingham Palace. 

t A piece of long yarn issued to be worked up in the looms. 


out of the tongues between tlie pentagons, and througli 
all tlie gardens. Just by tlie external tower of Pentagon 4, 
the governor and chaplain, who were together, came upon 
two men crouching in close under the wall. These were 
two prisoners, named Alexander Wallie, the wardsman, and 
Eobert Thompson, the instructor of C. Ward, Pentagon 5. 
Thompson said at once, '' You are gentlemen ; we will sur- 
render to you. We will make no resistance." But the 
governor being immediately pined by the other officers, it 
was as much as he could do to protect the prisoners from 
attack and assault, as the former were greatly excited. 
One of the prisoners was dressed in a fustian frock and 
trowsers belonging to Warder Hay ; the other had no coat, 
but a waiscoat and trowsers belonging to some other officer. 

At the top of the tower in C Ward, Pentagon 5, out of 
one of the loopholes near the water cistern, another cut of 
cross-over had been found hanging, by which the prisoners 
had evidently descended. On going up to the place there 
were found close by, a large hammer, a chisel, and a screw- 
driver, articles used in repairing the looms, and the large 
poker belonging to the airing stoves. Several bricks had 
been removed from one side of the loophole, leaving a space 
wide enough for one person to get through. To the iron 
bar in the centre of the loophole one end of the cross-over 
was made fast ; the other reached the ground. The 
prisoners' prison clothing was close by this cistern, and in 
Wallie's pocket was a skeleton key made of pewter, which 
opened many of the officers' bed-room doors. The prisoners 
confessed they had let themselves out of their cells by means 
of false keys made of pewter, and four of these were found 
near the place where the prisoners had been caught crouching 
down. The keys were partially buried into the ground. 
There were two check-gate keys, one cell key, and a skeleton 
key made of pewter. 

Attempts at escape were not unknown in the interval 
between this and the time when Pickard Smith bewildered 
Mr. Nihil. But they were abortive and hardly worth re- 
counting. It was not till years after the Reverend Governor 
had resigned his command that serious efforts at evasion 


l)ecame really frequent and successful. This was -when 
Millbank had become changed in constitution, and from a 
Penitentiary had been made a depot for all convicts awaiting 
transportation beyond the seas. I shall have occasion to refer 
to this change in the next volume, but will so far anticipate as 
to include some of the escapes that happened then in the 
present chapter. The prison was filled to overflowing with 
desperate characters ; every hole and corner was crammed ; 
there had been no commensurate increase of official 
staff, and therefore those indispensable precautions by which 
only escapes could be prevented were greatly neglected. 
Weak points are soon detected by the watchful prisoner, and 
in these days every loophole of escape was quickly explored 
and turned to account. That some of these convicts were 
resolute in their determination to get free may be believed 
when it is stated that one, en route from Liverpool to Millbank, 
offered his escort a bribe of £600 to allow him to escape. 
There was no doubt that accomplices were close at hand ready 
to assist him, but happily the virtuous officers resisted 

One of the first attempts of those days was made by a man 
named Cummings, who broke through the ceiling of his cell. 
He traversed the roof of his pentagon, but could get no further. 
Then he commenced to sing and to shout, and by this he was 
discovered. A ladder having been placed for him to descend 
by he was secured. The prisoner himself stated that he had 
got through the arch by means of a hole he made with a nail he 
had picked up in the ward. The man was evidently cowed 
when he found himself on the top of the Penitentiary, and 
declared while they were trying to secure him that he would 
throw himself down. He had made no provision for his own 
descent ; his rug, blanket, towels, etc., were found in his cell 
all untorn. He had, however, traversed the roof along one 
side of the pentagon. 

Soon afterwards seven prisoners made their escape in a 
body from the prison. They were lodged in a large room — 
now the officers' mess — the windows of which were without 
bars ; and they were able therefore to climb through them on 
to the roof. They took their blankets with them, and making 


a ladder, descended by it. The policeman on duty outside 
roused the lodge-keeper, to say lie had seen a man scale the 
boundary wall between 1 and 2 a.m. A heavy ladder had been 
reared against the wall. All officers were roused out and 
stationed round the prison; while close search was made in 
the numerous gardens, stone-yards, etc.j about. At half-past 
four, two officers came back with four prisoners in a cab. 
They had been tracked almost from the walls of the prison 
and captured at Ohiswick. The other three were caught at 
Watford by a recruitiug-sergeant and an inspector of the 
Hertfordshire police. They were on their way to Two 

Next day a conspiracy was detected among the prisoners 
who brought in coke from the garden to escape while so 
employed. Almost immediately afterwards four other prisoners 
were caught in the very act of escaping through the top of 
the cell they occupied. They had broken away the lath aud 
plaster ceiling of the cell, removed the slate slab above it, 
and had taken off the roof slate to a sufficient extent to allow 
of easy egress ; their sheets had been torn up and were 
knotted together, and everything was ready for their descent. 

The next attempt, within a week or two, was made by a 
prisoner who found that the mouth of the foul air shaft, to 
which his cell was adjacent, was not protected by bars ; 
accordingly he broke through the wall of his cell, and having 
thus gained access to the shaft, would have gained the roof 
easily had his artifice not been discovered just in time. Two 
others picked the lock leading to the garden, meaning to 
escape in the evening ; and just then by chance it fell out 
that the prisoner bookbinders had been long maturing a plan 
of escape. They had made a large aperture in the floor of 
their cell, which hole had been concealed by pasteboard. The 
whole of the party (three in number) were privy to the plot, 
and each descended in turn to the vault below the cell, 
which was on the ground floor, to work at the external wall 
of the prison. This, when their plot was discovered, they had 
cut three parts through. They had also prepared three 
suits of clothing " from their towels, and had hidden these 
disguises beneath some rubbish in the vault, where were also 


discovered a mason's hammer, the blade of a shears, and a 
cold chisel. A rope ladder had also been made for scaling the 
boundary wall, but it had been subsequently cut up as useless. 
The intending fugitives thought of making a better ladder 
from broom handles, to be supplied by a brush-maker in an 
adjoining cell, who was also in the plot. They had worked at 
night by candlelight. In this case it is not too much to say 
that the officials in charge of these prisoners were really 
much to blame. Had they exercised only ordinary vigilance 
the scheme could not have remained so long undiscovered. 
By the prisoners' own confession the hole had been in 
existence for more than three months, and therefore the cell 
could never have been searched. 

But the most marvellous escape from Millbank was effected 
in the winter of 1847, by a prisoner named Howard, better 
known as Punch Howard. He had been equally successful 
before both at Newgate and Horsemonger Lane Gaol ; but 
the ingenuity and determination he displayed in this last 
affair was quite beyond everything previously accomplished. 

He was sentenced to transportation, and had only been 
received a few days when he was removed to a cell at the top 
of the infirmary, part of the room called now-a-days E Ward. 
The window in this cell is long and narrow, running parallel 
to the floor but at some length from it. The extreme length 
is about three feet, the width but six inches and a half. This 
may be measured at any time, and was by me before I wrote 
the last sentence. It was closed by a window that revolved 
on a central bar forming an axle. This bar was riveted into 
the stone at each end of the window. 

In those days the prisoners used regular steel knives, 
which were given in for meal times, and then immediately 
removed. Howard at dinner-time converted his knife into 
a rough saw, by hammering the edge of the blade on 
the corner of his iron bedstead, and with this sawed 
through one rivet, leaving the window in statu quo. The 
whole thing was effected within the dinner hour : saw made, 
bar cut, and knife returned. No examination of the knife 
could have been made, and so far luck favoured the prisoner. 
As soon as the warders went off duty, and the pentagon was 


left to one single ofl&cer as patrol, Howard set to work. 
Hoisting himself again to the window, by hanging his blanket 
on a hammock hook in the wall just beneath, he removed the 
window bodily — one rivet having been sawn through, the 
other soon gave way. The way of egress, such as it was, 
was now open — a narrow slit three feet by six inches and a 
half. Howard was a stoutly built man, with by no means 
a small head, yet he managed to get this head through the 
opening. Having accomplished this, no doubt after tremen- 
dous pressure and much pain to himself, he turned so as to 
lie on his back, and worked his shoulders and arms out. He 
had previously put the window with its central iron bar half 
in half out of the orifice, meaning to use it as a platform 
to stand on, the weight of his body pressing down one end 
while the other caught against the roof of the opening, 
and so gave him a firm foothold. He had also torn up his 
blankets and sheets in strips, and tied them together, so as 
to form a long rope, one end of which was fastened to his 
legs. He was now half-way out of the window, lying in 
a horizontal position, with his arms free, his body nipped 
about the centre by the narrow opening, his legs still inside 
his cell. It was not difl&cult for him now to draw out the rest 
of his body, and as soon as he had length enough he threw 
himself up and caught the coping-stone of the roof above. 
All this took place on the top storey, at a height of some 
thirty-five feet from the ground. He was now outside the 
wall, and standing on the outer end of the window bar. To 
draw out the whole lengths of blanket and sheeting rope, throw 
them on to the roof, and clamber after, were his next exploits. 
His next job was to descend into the garden below, which 
encircles the whole of the buildings, and is itself surrounded 
by a low boundary wall. This garden was patrolled by six 
sentries, who divided the whole distance between them. He 
could see them as he stood on the roof between Pentagons 
3 and 4. He took the descent by degrees, lowering himself 
from the roof to a third floor window, and from third floor 
to second, from second to first, and from first to the ground 
itself. The back of the nearest patrol just then was turned, 
and Howard's descent to terra firma was unobserved. Next 

ESCAPES. ■ 189- 

moment he was seen standing in his white shirt, but other- 
wise naked, in among the tombstones of the Penitentiary- 
graveyard, which is just at this point. Concluding he was 
a ghost^ the sentry, as he afterwards admitted, turned tail and 
ran, leaving the coast quite clear. Howard was not slow to 
profit by the chance. Some planks lay close by, one of which 
he raised against the boundary wall, and walked up the 
incline thus formed. Next moment he dropped down on the 
far side, and was free. His friends lived close by the prison 
in Pye Street, Westminster, and within a minute or two he 
was in his mother's house, got food and clothing, and again 
made off for the country. 

Naturally the excitement in the prison on the following 
morning was intense. Howard was gone, and he could 
be tracked by his means of exit from his cell to the roof, 
down the outer wall, across the garden, and over the 
boundary wall. Here the trail stopped ; and though his 
home in Pye Street was immediately searched, no one would 
confess to having seen him. It was felt that recapture was 
almost hopeless. It occurred, however to Denis Power,* 
the warder of Howard's ward, that this man had come to 
prison with a " pal," a certain Jerry Simcox, who had been 
convicted at the same time and for the same offence. Mr. 
Power thereupon visited Simcox in his cell. 

'' So Punch has gone, sir ? " 

" How did you know that ? " 

" Why, sir, you couldn't keep him. We was in Newgate 
together, him and me, and in Horsemen ger too ; but we got 
out of both. There ain't no jail '11 hold Punch Howard." 

" Oh, you got out together, did you ? " said the officer, 
growing interested. 

" Yes, and could again out of any ' stir ' in the three 
kingdoms, and they could not take us either. We got to too 
safe a crib for that." 

" Yes ? " Power spoke unconcernedly. If he had ap- 
peared too anxious Simcox would have shut up. 

" Panch has got an uncle down Uxbridge way — works at 
some brick-fields at West Drayton. Six or eight hundred of 
* At this moment (1875) Mr. Power is the chief warder of Millbank. 


them — Mr. Hearn's lot they is. That's where we went, and 
the police daren't follow us there. They don't allow no 
'coppers' on the premises thereabouts, Mr. Power. That's 
the place to hide." 

" No doubt/' thinks Mr. Power ; " and Howard's gone 
there now." 

Within an hour he had obtained the governor's permission 
to go in pursuit, with a brace of pistols in his pocket, and 
unlimited credit. 

At the inn of West Drayton he bought from the ostler 
a suit of navvy's clothes, and went thus disguised with a 
spade over his shoulder towards the brickworks. The field 
was full and busy. There was an alehouse close by, but, as it 
was early morning, no one about but a sort of serving wench, 
a middle-aged woman, one-eyed, and bearing on her face the 
marks of a life of dissipation and rough usage. 

'' Morrow, mistress. Any work going ? " 

" Ah ! work enough," replied the woman, fixing him with 
her one eye, which was as good as four or five in any other 
head. " But you don't want no work." 


*'No; I know you. You're not what you seem. That 
spade and them duds ain't no sort of good. You're after 
work, but not that sort of work." 

Doubtful whether she meant to help or thwart him, Power 
could only trust himself to order a pot of ale. 

"Have a drain, missus." 

" And I'll help you too — no, not with the ale, but to cop 
young Punch." 

" Punch ? " 

" Aye — Punch Howard. That's the work you're after ; 
and you shall get it too, or my name's not Martha Jonas. 
This three-and-twenty years I've lived with his uncle, Dan 
Cockett, man and wife, though no parson blessed us. Three- 
and-twenty I slaved and bore with the mean white-faced 
hound, and now he leaves me for a younger woman, and I am 
brought to this. Help you ! — by the great powers, I'd put a 
knife in Dan Cockett too." 

" And how am I to take him ? " 


" Not by daylight. Bless you, if you went into that field 
they'd never let you out alive. Why, no bobby durst go 
there, nor yet a dozen together." 

" Is Punch Howard in the field with them ? " 

" There ; look yonder. D'ye see that lad in the striped 
shirt and blue belcher tie, blue and big white spots ? Can't 
you tell him a mile off ? " 

Sure enough it was Punch Howard, standing by a brick 
*' table," at which a number of others were at work, smooth- 
ing and finishing the bricks, or coming and going with the 
bearing-off barrows. 

" Come to-night, master. They sleep mostly out there, 
on the top of the brick stacks — and heavy sleep, for the beer 
in this house isn't water. Come with a bobby or two, and 
look them all over. Punch'll be among them, and you'll be 
able to steal him away before the rest awake." 

So Power went back to the village, interviewed the 
superintendent of police, kept quiet during the rest of the 
day, and that night came in force to draw his covert. 
Stealthily they searched it from end to end. Among all the 
villainous faces into which they peered there was not one 
that bore the least resemblance to Punch Howard. Had the 
woman played him false ? Power could hardly make up his 
mind to distrust her, so earnest and embittered had been her 
language against Dan Cockett. No doubt another night he 
would have more success. Meanwhile time pressed, and he 
resolved to try a plan of his own. 

" Have you a good horse and four-wheeled shay ? " he 
asked of the landlord next morning. 

" The best in all England." 

" Every man's goose is a swan," thought Power. " Let's 
see the nag." 

He was a good one, and no mistake ; but an out-and-out 
good one was wanted for the job in hand. 

At one end of the brick-field — a spacious place covering 
200 or 300 acres — was an office for the time-keeper and 
foreman of the works. He was an old police sergeant, long 
pensioned off, but who had his wits about him still. The 
office was approached by a narrow lane, with room for one 


set o£ wheels only, a quarter of a mile in length, and 
branching off from the high road to Uxbridge. Up this lane, 
half hidden by the hedge, Mr. Power drove to the foreman^ s 
shed. The ex-sergeant was alone, and readily fell in with 
the plan proposed. " Here ! " he cried to a young fellow 
who went his errands and assisted in the office ; " run up to 
the field and ask Dan Cockett if he wants a job for that idle 
young nephew. I see he's back in these parts. I need a lad 
to screen coal dust, and I'll give him twelve shillings a week. 
Look sharp ! '^ 

The messenger went off without. 

"A job for my nephew?" said old Dan. ^'Ay — heartily 
thank you too, master. You're a gentleman. Hi! Punch, 
you're in luck. They say they'll take you on. Twelve 
shillings a week. Run along with the master : they want to 
' book you ' at the office." 

So unsuspecting Punch accompanied the other back to 
where Power was waiting for his prey. It should be 
mentioned here that this warder was an extremely powerful 
man — tall, with tremendous shoulders, and just then in the 
prime of life. 

He stepped forward at once. 

" What, Punch ! What are you doing in these parts ? " 

" ril swear I never saw you in all " He never finished 

those words. His captor was on him and had him fast. 
In less time than it takes to describe, the handcuffs were 
locked upon his wrists, and, taking him up in his arms, Power 
fairly lifted him off the ground and carried him into the chaise. 
Without losing his hold he took his seat too, gave reins to th& 
horse, and started off at a hand gallop down the lane. He had 
the reins in one hand, the other arm tightly bound round 
Howard's neck, and the hand used as far as it was possible as a 
gag. But though it was possible to hold this captive tight, it 
was not so easy to keep him silent. Before they had gone a 
dozen yards Howard had managed to send off more than one 
yell of distress, as a signal to his friends in the field. The 
sight of the galloping horse, the bui-ly figure of the driver, 
and the lad crouching in close by its side — all three betrayed 
the plot. Almost simultaneously several hundreds of men 


dropped work and gave cliase — some down the lane, others 
trying to head the trap at the junction with the high road. 
Power had his hands full : in one, a struggling criminal, 
desperate, ready to fling himself out o£ the chaise at any risk ; 
in the other a bunch of reins and a whip. However, he had 
the start, and the heels of his pursuers. Once only was his 
escape in doubt : on reaching the road, the horse tried to turn 
shai'p to the left, back to his stable at West Drayton, instead 
of to the right to Uxbridge. With a jerk that almost upset 
the trap. Power turned the horse in the right direction, and 
half-an-hour afterwards had left his pursuers miles behind, and 
was safe at the police station. 

Within forty-eight hours of his escape Punch Howard was 
back in a Millbank cell, and Mr. Power was handsomely 
rewarded for the pluck and energy he had displayed. 

A similar feat to Punch Howard's was accomplished by a 
man named Jack Robinson, at Dartmoor. This man had long 
pretended to be weak-minded, and had thus put his keepers off 
their guard. He was in the habit of exercising himself shoeless 
and bare-headed, and wearing an old hat without a brim. In his 
bosom he carried generally a few tame rats, which issued forth 
now and then to walk over his arms and shoulders, and to 
lick his hands and face. A frequent joke with Robinson was 
to tell the chaplain that he had put his feet too far through 
his trousers — which caused infinite amusement always to his 
convict audience. Jack, however, was fond of foretelling that 
he meant to make April fools of everyone — and so in effect he 
did. One morning he was flown, and with him two com- 
panions. He had cut through the bars of his cell by some 
artful contrivance ; but what, remains a mystery to this day. 
Some think he used a watch-spring, others some chemical 
process. He was not recaptured, but later was reconvicted 
for stealing a railway rug. 

No account of escapes from prison would be complete 
without some reference to George Hackett, who got out from 
Pentonville in a manner nearly marvellous. Through some 
neglect he had been allowed to take his sheets and bedrope 
into chapel with him. In those days the chapel was divided 
into a number of small compartments, one for each prisoner. 


Hackett worked unobserved in his, till lie kad forced up the 
flooring, and so gained tke gallery ; whence, by breaking a- 
zinc ventilator, he climbed through a window on to the parapet 
leading to the governor's house. This he entered, and stealing 
some good clothes, changed, and so got clean away. Soon 
afterwards he wrote the following letter to the governor of 
Pentonville : 

" George Hackett presents his compliments to the Governor 
of the Model Prison, and begs to apprise him of his happy 
escape from the goal. He is in excellent spirits, and assures 
the governor it would be useless to pursue him. He is quite 
safe, and intends in a few days to proceed to the continent to 
recruit his health." 

Hackett was a very desperate man. He had already 
escaped from a police cell at Marlborough Street, when 
confined on a charge of burglary. The cell was secured by 
two bolts and a patent Chubb lock. After his escape from. 
Pentonville he remained at large till the following Derby 
day. He was then recognised going '^down the road," by 
a police officer, who proceeded to arrest him, but met with 
violent resistance. Hackett knocked down the policeman 
with a life preserver and made off, but was intercepted by 
a labouring man, who, though badly mauled, succeeded in 
capturing him. Hackett on all the charges was sentenced 
to fifteen years' transportation.* 

A later escape from Millbank was in 1860, when three 
prisoners escaped, one Sunday, by working a hole in the 
floor. They were located on the ground floor, and, having 
removed the ventilating plate which communicated with a 
shaft, got thus down into a cellar and so to a party wall with, 
iron gratings. These removed, they issued out into the 
garden, where, as it was summer time, the thick vegetation 
concealed them. By-and-by a gentleman passing gave the 
alarm at the gate that he had seen two men climbing over 
the boundary wall. Some officers immediately gave chase, 
but the fugitives took a hansom and drove off. Their 
pursuers followed in another cab, and presently ran down 
their men somewhere near St. Luke's. The third prisoner 
* Annual Register. 


was cauglit in among tlie bushes of the garden, wliicli he had 
never left. 

In this case the officers of the ward were very seriously 
to blame. They were indeed suspected of collusion, and 
without that it is difficult to understand how the prisoners 
could have effected their purpose. They must have been 
long engaged in preparing to make good their exit, and in 
the cellar were found great quantities of weapons, tools, cards, 
and so forth. 

Three years afterwards, in 1863, fortune favoured a convict 
named Sheen in every particular; and partly by lucky 
accident, partly by the negligence of the warders in charge 
of him, he managed to get out of the prison. Sheen was a 
man of education ; by profession a surgeon ; sentenced to 
penal servitude for forgery. After his arrival at Millbank he 
was found to be in the possession of funds, with which he used 
to tamper with his officers. Hence he was placed under 
others supposed to be above suspicion. But the latter were 
as careless as the first had been dishonest. Had they done 
their duty as regards searching the prisoner and his cell and 
belongings, he could never have effected his escape. It 
happened in this wise. One evening, just before locking 
up, he brought out his water-bucket in which he was supposed 
to have washed. His clothes lay at the top. 

As a prisoner under special observation he was obliged to 
give up his clothes at night ; but inside this bundle he had 
folded a sheet instead of his trousers, as he wanted the latter 
to escape in. Inside the bucket instead of dirt was a mass 
of brick rubbish, the result of his operation at the aperture 
in the angle of his cell window. Daring the night he con- 
tinued to work at this hole until it was large enough to let 
him through ; then, with a rope of the cocoa-nut fibre given 
him to pick, he made good his descent to the roof of the 
" General Ward," a low building in the yard below. He got 
into this ward by a skylight, and there supplied himself with 
several yards of sash-line belonging to the skylight, as well 
as with a piece of stout wood. After that he climbed back 
to his cell; placed the piece of wood between the window- 
bar and window-sash, and thus obtained a firm foothold on 



whicli he stood and thus readied tlie roof. When on the 
roof he slung the coir-rope round the chimney-stack and let 
himself down into the garden outside, and clear of the 
pentagons, although still within the boundary walls. To 
surmount this last obstacle he threw the sash-line over the 
boundary wall, on which it caught tight by means of a 
grappling hook formed of wires bound tightly together, 
swarmed up the rope, unloosed it, let himself down the 
other, and so got away. He was never recaptured. 

The last escape from Millbank up to date occurred in 
September, 1882, and is one of the most extraordinary on 
record. A convict, named Lovett, a notorious burglar, who 
had just commenced a sentence of fourteen years' penal 
servitude, managed, partly by his own marvellous ingenuity, 
partly by the slackness of supervision, to break prison during 
the night. He was lodged in the top floor of one of the 
pentagons. There was a crack in the crown of the arch of 
the cell he occupied, and the discovery of this, together with 
his cleverness in obtaining a long length of rope, led him to 
attempt the escape. Works were in progress in the interior 
of the prison, with the usual consequences that materials 
likely to facilitate escape could be secured and secreted. 
With a long nail picked up in this way, Lovett began to 
make an aperture in the roof of his cell. He got up to his 
work by building up a platform ; on his cell table he placed 
his rolled up bed, on that again his bucket, and thus reached 
to within four feet of the crown of the arch. The bed lay 
just opposite the " inspection hole " in the cell door, and so 
completely obscured the view into the cell. Lovett, according 
to his own account, as related after his recapture, began work 
at nine p.m., and by half-past one had completed an opening 
big enough to allow of his passing through into the roof. 
Once there, he removed without difficulty a batten and some 
slates from the rafters, and attached his rope, or, more exactly, 
his cord to the latter. This cord he had manufactured out of 
the rope or " pink " given him to unravel or pick into oakum. 
He respun it and so obtained a sufficient length to allow him 
to lower himself from the roof to within ten feet of the ground 
in the prison garden on the far side of the pentagon. He 


dropped tMs, and the first part of his task was accoraplislied 
successfullj. Nothing remained but for him to scale the 
boundary wall. Here again the building materials came in 
with effective help. He easily picked up two planks, lashed 
them together with scaffold rope which lay about, and so 
made an inclined plane up which he walked to the top of the 
wall. To pull up his planks and make a new inclined plane 
on the far side was not difficult, and thus he descended to 

Lovett was a Londoner, and he could not abandon his old 
haunts. Possibly he felt himself more safe in the great city. 
But the police obtained information by which he was speedily 
tracked and his movements watched. On Sunday morning, 
three days after his escape, he was caught in Gower Street, 
and within an hour was lodged in the police station on his way. 
back to Millbank. 




It is a well-establislied fact in prison logistics that tlbe women 
are far worse than the men. When given to misconduct they 
are far more persistent in their evil ways^ more outrageously 
violent, less amenable to reason or reproof. For this there 
is more than one explanation. No doubt when a woman is 
really bad, when all the safeguards, natural and artificial, with 
which they have been protected are removed, further de- 
terioration is sure to be rapid when it once begins. Again, 
the means of coercion in the case of female prisoners are 
necessarily limited. While a prompt exhibition of force can- 
not fail sooner or later to bring an offending male convict to 
his senses, a woman continues her misconduct unchecked, 
because such methods cannot be put into practice against her. 
Although in some cases the men have made a temporarily 


• successful fight against discipline, in the long run they have 
been compelled to succumb. On the other hand there are 
instances known of women who have maintained for months, 
nay years, an unbroken warfare with authority, and who have 
won the day in the end. Never beaten, they continued till the 
•day of their release to set every one at defiance. That obsti- 
nacy which has passed into a proverb against the sex, sup- 
ported them throughout ; this, and a species of hysterical 
mania, the natural outcome of their highly- strung nervous 

A curious example of their strength of physical endurance, 
and their almost indefatigable persistence in wrong-doing, 
deserves to be mentioned here, though it occurred some years 
later on, A strange fancy all at once seized a number of 
women occupying adjoining cells to drum on their doors with 
the soles of their feet. There is no evidence to show when or 
how this desire first showed itself ; but in less than a week it 
had become general almost throughout the female prison. To 
accomplish her purpose the woman lay full length on her cell 
floor, just the right distance from the door, and began. She 
was immediately answered from the next cell, whence the 
infection spread rapidly to the next, and so on till the whole 
place was in an uproar. These cell doors being badly hung 
were a little loose; they rattled, therefore, and shook, till 
the whole noise became quite deafening and incredible. Some 
women were able to keep up the game for hours together, day 
after day; in several cases it was proved that they had 
drummed in this way for several weeks. They soon worked 
themselves into a state of uncontrollable excitement, amounting 
almost to hysteria. Many after a time became quite prostrate 
and ill, and had to be taken to the infirmary for treatment. 
The physical exertion required in the operation was so great 
that women so employed for barely an hour were found literally 
soaked in perspiration from head to foot, and lying, without 
exaggeration, in pools of moisture. la numbers the kicking 
.superinduced diseases of the feet, the whole skin of the sole 
having been worn away ; for it is almost needless to observe 
•that very early in the affray shoes and stockings were 
-altogether destroyed, and it came to be a question of bare 


feet. Several metliods were tried to put an end to this 
unpleasant practice — strait waistcoats^ dietary punishments, 
and so forth — but all without avail. In that particular instance 
the disturbances continued till the women had fairly worn 
themselves out. 

Since then later outbreaks of a similar character were met 
and subdued in a different fashion. The introduction of 
''ankle straps," which confine the feet as handcuffs do the 
wrist, was found a highly efficacious treatment — this, and the 
invention of the " dumb cell." From the latter no sound can 
possibly proceed : however loud and boisterous the outcry 
within, outside not a whisper is heard. When women feel that 
they are shouting and wasting their breath all to no purpose, 
they throw up the sponge. But even more has since then 
been accomplished by purely moral methods • than by these 
physical restraints. It has been found that the simplest way 
to tame women thus bent upon misconduct is to take no 
notice of them at all. When a woman discovers that she ceases 
to attract attention by her violence, she alters her line of 
conduct, and seeks to attain her ends by other and more 
agreeable means. The most potent temptation with them is 
the desire to " show off " before their companions. A curious 
sort of vanity urges them on. It is all bravado. Hence we 
find that when these tremendous " breakings out," as they are 
termed in prison parlance, occur, they originate almost entirely 
among the women who are " associated," in other words, who 
are free to come and go and communicate with one another. 
Separate them, keep them as much as possible apart and alone, 
and you remove at once the strong temptation to gain an 
unenviable notoriety at the expense of the discipline of the 
establishment. This is proved by the experience of late years. 
Thus at Millbank in 1874 there were only three instances 
of this sort of misconduct, and in the previous year only 

But to return to Mr. Nihil. It appears that during his 
reign the condition of the female pentagon was always 
unsatisfactory. We find in his Journal constant reference to 
the want of discipline among the female prisoners. Thus : 
" The behaviour of the female pentagon is frightfully dis- 


orderly, calling for vigorous and exemplary punishment. 
Women contract the most intimate friendship with each othei', 
or the most deadly hatred/' The bickering, bad feeling, 
and disputes are increasing. After inquiring into one case 
the governor observes : " Before the afternoon was over the 
combatants had the whole pentagon in an uproar. One 
smashed her windows to bits, and so did the other. They had 
to be taken to the dark ; but Walters produced a knife, 
and would have wounded the matron.'^ Again, " I had to 
reprove strongly the taskmistress and warders for the 
laxity of discipline prevalent therein.^' Later on, when 
the rules of greater seclusion came into force, he again 
remarks : " On the female side there is great laxity, no 
discipline, no attempt to enforce non-intercourse. Instead 
of a rule by which each individual would be thrown on 
her own reflections, and secluded altogether, the female 
pentagon is in fact & criminal nunnery, where the sister- 
hood are linked together by a chain of sympathies and by 

familiar and frequent communications Although, to 

the ladies who visit them, the females repeat Scripture 
and speak piously, the communications which many of them 
carry on with each other are congenial with their former 
vicious habits, their minds being thus kept in a state at once 
the most depraved and hypocritical." 

These ''ladies'' to whom the governor refers were mem- 
bers of the celebrated "Ladies' Association," headed by 
Mrs. Fry, whose long ministrations among female convicts 
have gained them a world-wide reputation. Having done 
undoubtedly excellent work where crying evils called for 
reform, they were eager for fresh fields of labour. In 1836 
they had applied through the Home Secretary for admis- 
sion to the Penitentiary, which after some demur they 
obtained. The committee urged that "although they felt 
the sincerest respect for the benevolent motives of Mrs. Fry 
and her associates, they are bound, in justice to the Peni- 
tentiary, to observe that the admission of ladies as visitors 
into a prison like Newgate furnishes no legitimate reason 
for admitting them on similar terms into the Penitentiary, 
where the system in operation is exempt from those evils 


which the ladies have been so laudably employed in correct- 
ing at Newgate." Upon this Lord John Eussell remarks 
that he thinks it is manifest that an impression may be 
made by the ladies which the best instructions of the 
chaplain might not effect ; and he is disposed to recommend 
that " the chaplain should confer with those ladies^ and that 
he should endeavour to arrange with them certain periods 
at which they should be allowed to communicate with the 
female prisoners, but that it should be clearly understood 
by them that his report would be sufficient to deprive them 
of admission." 

Accordingly they came and tried their best. It would be 
hardly fair to deny them all credit, or to assert that, be- 
cause the women continued ill-conditioned throughout, the 
counsels and admonitions of these ladies had altogether 
failed of effect. It is obvious, however, from Mr. NihiFs 
remarks, that their services tended to produce hypocrisy 
rather than real repentance. The fact was there was a 
marked distinction between the work they had done at 
Newgate and that to which they put their hands in the 
Penitentiary. In this latter place the women were really 
sedulously cared for ; they had an abundance of good food, 
clean cells, comfortable beds ; they bathed regularly ; they 
had employment, books, and the unceasing ministrations 
of a zealous chaplain. Newgate, on the other hand, when 
first visited by Mrs. Fry, was a perfect sink of abomina- 
tion, rivalling quite the worst pictures painted by Howard. 
The women's side went by the name of ''Hell above 
ground." Here, in four rooms, containing altogether some 
190 superficial yards, were crowded 300 females of every 
category — tried, untried; felons, misdemeanants — with their 
numerous children. Many of these women were half naked, 
the rest in rags. They had no beds, and upon this floor 
whereon they slept they washed also, and cooked their food. 
On all sides the ear was assailed by awful imprecations, 
begging, swearing, singing, fighting, dancing, dressing up in 
men's clothes. " The scenes are too bad to be described," 
says Mrs, Fry in her evidence before the House of Commons. 
All visitors were clamorously attacked for alms, the wretched 


prisoners struggling wildly to get foremost and nearer the 
bars that parted them, from the public, or stretching forth 
their wooden spoons, tied to the end of long staves, to collect 
the money. So great was the lawlessness that invariably 
prevailed that the governor of Newgate accompanied Mrs. 
Fry with reluctance, and by his advice the visitors left their 
watches and valuables behind in his house. " On that first 
occasion the sorrowful and neglected condition of these 
depraved women and their miserable children,^' says her 
biographer^ " dwelling in such a vortex of corruption, deeply 
sank into her heart.'' 

All that Mrs. Fry and her companions accomplished is a 
matter of history now. The object they had in view was 
*' to provide for the clothing, instruction, and employment of 
the women ; to introduce them to a knowledge of the Holy 
Scriptures ; and to form in them as much as possible those 
habits of order, sobriety, and industry, which may render 
them docile and peaceable in prison, and respectable when 
they leave it." All this, and more, these ladies to their 
infinite credit performed, and in an incredibly short period of 
time. It was no slight feat to replace within a few months 
drunkenness, ferocity, and abandoned licentiousness by sober 
decency of demeanour ; loud ribaldry and oaths by silence or 
edifying talk ', squalor and semi-nudity by cleanliness and 
sufl&ciency in attire ; to convert a den of wild beasts, where 
only filth, disgusting odours, and all abominations reigned, 
into a happy home of quiet and decorum. These were the 
changes they actually effected. And yet, valuable and 
remarkable as were these results, it must be confessed that 
they owed to contrast not a little of their importance. 
Compared with the first foul blackness, the new order of 
things seemed whiter than snow. It was because this 
Newgate gaol and its wretched inmates were fallen to the 
very depths of degradation, that the improvement worked in 
their condition appeared so tremendous and surprising. But 
it is easier to turn the positively bad into something com- 
paratively better, than to make the latter superlatively and 
permanently good. Without presuming to detract from the 
efforts and success of the "Ladies' Association," there is too 


mucli reason to suppose that the results they obtained were 
evanescent and temporary. The reformation of Newgate was 
what in modern language would be styled a " revival," and 
the known tendency of such movements is to collapse when 
the first fire of frenzied enthusiasm is exhausted. We have^ 
unfortunately, evidence that among the female convicts who 
were brought to bless the name of Mrs. Fry, many again 
fell away ; partly, doubtless, from the shocking mismanage- 
ment of affairs at the antipodes,* whither most of them 
proceeded, and in a measure also because their conversion 
was transitory and did not rest on the sure foundation of 
really altered habits and thorough reform of character. 

But the condition of Millbank under Mr. Nihil was not 
that of Newgate and other prisons in 1816. It could not be 
said the Penitentiary prisoners were neglected. No fault 
could be found with their treatment generally, or the measures 
taken to provide for their spiritual needs. Long before the 
arrival of the " Ladies' Association " the religious instruction 
of the female prisoners may be said to have reached a point 
of saturation : the preaching and praying, if I may say so, 
had been already a little overdone. Hence it was that their 
advent deepened only their outward hypocrisy and lip service, 
without changing one whit their evil natures, which still 
rankled like hidden sores beneath. 

And so it is to-day. These lady visitors are "amateurs," 
and, like all other unprofessional people, the work 
they do is imperfect and incomplete. Their tendency 
is to waste their energy in the wrong direction. If they 
alone suffered we might pity them and pass on, but serious 
injury to discipline is another inevitable consequence, and this 
ought not to be ignored. From benevolent motives, no 
doubt, but by mistake, the worse " cases'' are those which 
by preference the ladies take up : these they pet, encourage, 
and make much of ; while a good peaceable prisoner, to whom 
a word or two of comfort would really be a boon, is neglected 
and left to herself. Seeing how much the visits of the ladies 
are appreciated, this plan of action is really placing a premium 
on misconduct. The regular official staff of the prison would 
* See pp. 281, 282. 


avoid an error like this. Witli trained professional eye they 
would sift the wheat from the chaff, and discriminate between 
impostors and the really deserving. Indeed the permanent 
officers of an establishment like Millbank are so amply 
sufficient for all needs that the necessity for outside 
extraneous assistance is not at once appai-ent — more especially 
when it is to be feared that evil rather than good is the 
consequence of these amateur ministrations. 

There was, however, in Mr. Nihil's time, plenty of rough 
materials to work upon ia the female pentagon. Some of 
the cases of misconduct recorded in the governor's Journals 
are far worse than anything we can even nowadays imagine. 
The women maintained the fight longer and with greater 
recklessness than would really be possible with our modern 
management in a modern prison. No doubt this was 
because the right methods of treatment were as yet hardly 
known, or, if known, were practised but imperfectly. I shall 
proceed now to detail one or two of the most flagrant 
instances of the protracted misconduct of those days, 
leaving it to the reader to decide whether the absence of 
similar outrageous behaviour now does not at least prove 
a certain superiority in our modern system of prison 

I have referred already to the additional annoyance 
entailed upon the governor by the consignment to his 
charge of the female transports awaiting transportation. 
None of these were worse than a certain Julia Newman, who 
was a Penitentiary prisoner, and whose case I shall describe 
directly at length, taking it as a type of the whole. But 
there were many others among the female convicts who 
were also very desperate characters indeed ; such as the 
woman from Liverpool, concerning whom the governor of 
the gaol wrote to say that she was so despex-ate that he 
thought it would be necessary to send her tied up in a 
sack. Mary McCarthy was another, who was brought in 
handcuffs from Newgate, with a note to the effect that she 
required the greatest attention. She had several times 
attempted to strangle herself, and had therefore been hand- 
cuffed day and night and constantly watched. " She is a 


most artful, designing woman, and will succeed, if not well 
looked after, in lier attempts to destroy herself." 

Mr. Nihil found McCarthy submissive and tractable, but 
after the above caution he thought it advisable to continue- 
the handcuffing, intending to withdraw the restraint as- 
soon as she abandoned her intention to commit suicide. At 
the end of two days she managed to rid herself of her hand- 
cuffs, having very small wrists ; but as she evinced no signs 
of violence or intractability they were not replaced, the 
governor thinking from his experience with Newman, that 
effectual and complete restraint was impossible if the- 
prisoner was determined. McCarthy was, however, con- 
stantly watched, and for ten days she remained quite quiet. 
On the 21st of October, a fortnight after her admission, she- 
begged her warder, Mrs. West, to come into her cell and 
teach her to stitch. Mrs. West did so readily, and all was 
calm and peaceable for a while. Suddenly, without giving 
Mrs. West a mementos warning, McCarthy stabbed her from 
behind, inflicting one severe wound on the forehead and the- 
other under the ear. She appears to have used the utmost 
violence. Mrs. West got up, streaming with blood, and made 
for the cell door, which she bolted behind her, thus securing 
the prisoner inside. Assistance was called at once, but on 
going back to the cell McCarthy was found on the floor 
insensible, with a big bruise on her forehead. She continued 
in this kind of trance for twenty-four hours. It was a marvel 
to everyone how she had got the weapon, for in consequence 
of her known suicidal tendencies she had been furnished 
with neither knife or scissors. However, on returning from 
exercise, as it was afterwards ascertained, she had seen a knife 
lying on the floor in the passage, and stooping, as if to pull 
up her shoe, had managed to secrete the knife in her sleeve. 
So unprovoked and murderous an attack, coupled with the 
previous attempts at suicide, indicated a maniacal ferocity. 
The succeeding trance corroborated the suspicions; and 
although the prisoner had exhibited great art in concealing 
her weapon, such cunning was not inconsistent with mania. 
She had also attempted to effect her escape by making a large 
hole in the ceiling of her cell. Therefore, a well-known. 


physician, Dr. Monro, was now sent for, and at once, on 
hearing the whole story, certified the prisoner to be insane. 
She was now in the infirmary, " bound with several ligatures 
by her feet and arms to the bed." The surgeon removed 
those on her arms, on which the governor thought it prudent 
to put her into handcuffs. In the night she was caught in 
the act of getting her feet loose, and was evidently bent on 
some further mischief. Thus bafiied, she remained sullen for 
some time, then sent for the governor and made a clean breast 
of it, having been moved thereto by a passage in Psalm cxix., 
which another prisoner who watched her had been reading 
aloud. The expression she noticed was about "going away 
like lost sheep." She told the governor that while she was 
in the trance she knew some gentlemen had come to see her, 
and that one of them was a mad doctor. " I don^t think 
doctors know much about madness," she added, " or they'd 
a understood me better." Mr. Nihil is now pretty sure that 
McCarthy is no lunatic, but Dr. Monro and Dr. Wade adhere 
to their former opinion, so she is removed to Bethlehem. 

Another woman, Ann Williams, who was received from 
Bath, proved a very desperate character. The governor of 
Bath Gaol, who brought her up to London, declared he had 
never had so much trouble with any prisoner before. She 
also was determined to make away with herself, and the first 
time left alone she had jumped out of a window an immense 
height from the ground. This country gaoler, on seeing the 
cell to which she was destined in the Penitentiary, protested 
that it would be highly dangerous to allow her to have 
pewter pint, or spoon, or cell stool. The moment her hands 
were loosened she would be sure to thrust the spoon down 
her throat, or attack some one with the stool. Even the 
sheets should be removed, for she was capable of tearing 
them into slips to make herself a halter. Directly she arrived 
at Millbank she tried to dash her brains out by striking her 
head violently against the wall — emulating in this respect 
another prisoner for whom, some years later, a special head- 
dress was provided, a sort of Turkish cap padded at the top, 
merely to save her skull. Williams' language was dreadful, 
and she refused all food. The governor now suspects her 


strongly of artifice, and the doctor recommends tliat she 
should be punished with bread and water diet. That night 
she grows extremely turbulent. She is now tied down to 
her bedstead, and a sort of gag, brought from Bath for 
McCarthy, is used and has a great effect in curbing her rage. 
This gag was a wide piece of strong leather, having per- 
forated holes to admit of breathing, but which completely 
silenced her horrible and violent expressions. After starving 
herself for four days she has still strength enough left to 
get out of her handcuffs, and would have done much mischief 
had not the other prisoners who were watching her held 
her down by the hair. After greasing her wrists it was 
found possible to replace the handcuffs. This was another 
case in which it was thought advisable to give the prisoner 
the benefit of the doubt, and she was also removed to 

It was quite within possibility that in these two cases 
madness was proved. But it is often difficult to draw the 
line between madness and outrageous misconduct; and the 
latter is sometimes persisted in in order to make good a 
pretence of deranged intellect. Among the female prisoners 
there are numerous instances of this — and for the matter 
of that among the males also. Cases of "trying it on," 
or '' doing the barmy," which are cant terms for feigning 
lunacy, used at one time to be more frequent than they are 
now, when longer experience protects prison medical men from 

The case of Julia St. Clair Newman — or Miss Newman, as 
she was commonly called in the prison and out — attracted 
considerable attention in its time, becoming indeed the subject 
of frequent discussion in Parliament, and being referred at 
length to a Select Committee of the House of Lords. Inside 
the walls Julia Newman was for many months the centre 
of all interest ; she was a thorn in the side of all officials, 
visitors, governor, doctor, matrons, and even of her fellow- 
prisoners. Apparently of Creole origin — at least it was 
certain that she had been born iu one of the West India 
Islands — she came home while still a child, and was educated 
at a French boarding-school. When sixteen she returned 


to Trinidad witli her mother, remained there a year or two, 
and again came to England to live on an allowance made 
them hy Julia's guardian. But whether this allowance was 
too small, or their natural proclivities would not be repressed, 
they soon got into bad ways. Repeatedly shifting houses, 
moving from one lodging to another, always in debt, and 
not seldom under suspicion of swindling and fraud. Three 
months in the King's Bench was followed by a lengthened 
sojourn in Whitecross Street Gaol; then came more shady 
transactions, mistakes like pledging their landlady's plate 
for their own, making away with wearing apparel and 
furniture, or absconding without payment of rent. At length, 
having left the apartments of a certain Mrs. Dobbs in a 
hurry, they packed up — quite by accident — in one of their 
trunks a silver spoon, some glasses, and a decanter, the 
property of the aforesaid Mrs. Dobbs. For this they were 
arrested, and as soon as they were in custody a second charge 
was laid against them for stealing a ring from a woman in 
the King's Bench, which Julia indignantly denied, declaring 
that she had picked it up in the pump-yard — where of course 
there were plenty of rings to be had simply for the trouble of 
stooping. Unfortunately the jury disbelieved the Newmans' 
explanation of both counts, and mother and daughter were 
found guilty and sentenced to transportation. 

They were evidently a pair of ordinary commonplace 
habitual swindlers, deserving no special notice. But their 
rumoured gentility gained for them a species of misplaced 
sympathy; and they were excused transportation, to be sent 
instead, for reformation, to the Penitentiary, where they 
ari'ived on the 11th March, 1837. Pf the mother it will be 
sufficient to say at once that she was an inoffensive, tractable 
old woman, who bore her punishment with patience, and 
eventually died in prison. But Julia was cast in a different 
mould. Under thirty — according to her own statement she was 
only nineteen — full in figure, and florid of complexion, possessed, 
as was afterwards proved, of extraordinary physical strength, 
she displayed, from the first moment almost, an incorrigible 
perversity which made her in the end a perfect nuisance to the 
whole establishment. There was something ladylike about 


her wlien slie was in a peaceable mood. Inexperienced people 
would have called her a gentlewoman. Not handsome or even 
good-looking, but decidedly " interesting," the matrons said 
when questioned before the Select Committee. She was 
accomplished : could draw and paint, and was very musical ; 
sang quite beautifully — and certainly during her stay at Mill- 
bank she gave plenty of proof of the strength and compass of 
her voice ; and with all this she was clever, designing, and of 
course thoroughly unprincipled. 

The day after her reception she endeavoured to tamper 
with the wardswoman ; seeking to obtain paper and pencil 
" to write a letter to her mother." When taxed with this 
breach of rules, she declared the wardswoman wanted to 
force the things upon her. Then she was found to have 
cut a page out of " The Prisoner's Companion/' a book 
supplied to all. " Questioned privately, Newman with many 
expressions of grief confessed her guilt." Mr. Nihil, who was 
still quite in the dark as to her real character, pardoned this 
offence. She was next charged with an attempt to induce a 
fellow-prisoner to pass on a message to her (Newman's) mother 
— the substance of which was that the elder Newman was to 
impose upon the chaplain by a hypocritical confession, to 
obtain thus the daughter's release, Julia promising when free 
to contrive means by which the mother should also be dis- 
charged. The '' dark " became her lot for this, and to it she 
again returned the following week, for refusing to clean out 
her cell. When the governor reasoned with her, she merely 
said she would be happy to pay some other prisoner to do it 
for her. This second visit to the dark brought her under the 
doctor's notice, who ordered her to the infirmary, as she 
declared she was too weak to walk downstairs. Her face 
having grown quite pale and ghastly, help was sent for, when it 
was discovered that she had whitened it with chalk. She 
again visited the dark, and when released began again to 
communicate with her mother. Several " stiffs " * were 
intercepted, in which she tried to persuade her to smuggle a 
letter out to their solicitors. This discovery led to a strict 

* " Stiffs " are* letters written clandestinely by prisoners to one 
another on any scrap of paper they can find. 


searcli of Julia's cell and person, wlien large quantities of 
writing paper were found upon her^ tliougb. " how slie procured 
the paper, or the pen, or how she manufactured the ink, 
continued a mystery implying great laxity of supervision." 
Her anxiety to write thus checked in one direction found vent 
in another : with the point of her scissors she had scratched 
upon the whitewash of her cell wall four verses of poetry. 
The words were harmless, and as she asserted that she felt it a 
severe restriction being kept apart, the governor admonished 
her well for this offence. This leniency was quite thrown away. 
A fresh attempt at clandestine correspondence comes to light 
within a week or two. Newman passes a letter at chapel to 
Mary Ann Stickley, which is found in the other's bosom, the 
substance of it being that Newman professed a great regard 
for Stickley, and begged of her to excite the hatred of all the 
other prisoners against Ware for her recent betrayal of 
Newman. A second letter was picked up by Alice Bradley 
in front of Newman's cell, addressed to a prisoner named 
Weedon, whom she abused in round terms for making a 
false charge against the governor to the effect that he had 
called her (Newman) by some horrid epithet — " which she 
could Qiever believe of that good man." Newman's cell 
was again searched, when an ink bottle was found in the 
hopper, and some substitutes for pens. Her letters were 
found " replete with artifices respecting modes of communi- 
cation." Her next form of amusement was to manufacture 
a big rag doll for herself, out of a breadth of her petticoat. 
When this was discovered Newman was at exercise walking 
in the yard, and she heard that her cell was about to be 
thoroughly searched. Whereupon she ran as fast as she 
could, back to her ward, and endeavoured to prevent the 
matrons from entering her cell. When searched herself she 
resisted violently, but with the assistance of the wards- 
woman some written papers were taken from her, also some 
leaves from the blank part of her Prayer-Book, also written 

" I understand," says the governor, " a most extraordinary 
scene took place when the prisoner apprehended a search. 
She rushed to the stove and thrust certain papers into it, 

p 2 


whicli but for the promptitude of tlie -wardswomari, wha 
behaved admirably, would soon have succeeding in putting 
tbem beyond investigation. They were however rescued, 
upon which she threw her arms around the warder's neck, 
kissed her vehemently, went on her knees, supplicated con- 
cealment, tore her hair, and by such passionate demonstrations 
evinced the great importance she attached to the papers. Th& 
warder wept, the taskmistress contributed her tears, the 
wardswoman was overcome, but all stood faithful. In the 
midst of the screaming and confusion came the schoolmaster, 
who was also assailed with all the tender importunities of the 
fair prisoner, but all in vain.''* 

By this time the governor arrived upon the scene, the 
officers partially recovered from their consternation, and New- 
man, much less excited, was disposed to make light of the 
document recently esteemed so precious. She said it was 
only a copy, the original had been torn up. " What is it 
then ? " "A paper from which my mother and I expect to 
gain our liberty. It relates to a person who was the cause of 
all our misfortunes." On inspection it proved to be a state- 
ment, or dying confession, of one Mary Hewett, tending ta 
exculpate the Newmans at her own expense — probably a draft 
of what Julia Newman wished Hewett to say. 

Three days later Julia is reported to be in a state of fury 
about 9.30 p.m. Loud screaming proceeded from her cell. 
" I found her in a most violent paroxysm of rage. It wa& 
most painful to see it. Not genuine madness did she evince^ 
but that species of temporary frenzy to which an actress by 
force of imagination and violent effort could attain. Towards- 
me she expressed the utmost abhorrence, and slammed the- 
door in my face. I sent for the surgeon and some male officers, 
for her screams and yells, her violence in tearing her hair, and 
knocking her head against the wall, made it probable that 
forcible restraint would be necessary." 

The surgeon did not wish to have her placed in a dark cell, 

nor even in a strait-waistcoat, and at his recommendation 

she was taken to the infirmary and put in a room by herself; 

but she was not removed without a continuance of violent- 

* Journal, vol. xi. 


screaming, to the disturbance of the whole place. Papers 
were found in her cell, on one of which was written " a lampoon, 
•composed in doggrel verses, in which she vented the bitterness 
of her revenge. I (Mr. Nihil) was the principal object of her 
ridicule. It is melancholy to see a young girl of talent and 
some attainments so bent upon deception, and when foiled in 
her artifice abandoning herself alternately to studied malice 
and furious rage.^' She remained in the infirmary for three 
•days at the special wish of the surgeon, though the governor 
wanted to have her back in her cell. All the time she continued 
to feign insanity — a clear imposture, of which the doctors, the 
governor, and the assistant chaplain were all convinced. The 
governor visited her "to endeavour to convince her of the folly 
and hopelessness of this course ; but the moment she saw me 
she addressed me with the most insulting expressions, and 
seizing a can full of gruel threw it at my head." She was 
restrained from further violence, but continued to use the most 
outrageous exclamations, to the disturbance of the whole 
•prison. The surgeon now consented to have her removed to a 
dark cell ; and the governor remarks, " I can account for her 
personal hostility to myself thus. She had been defeated in 
several attempts to carry on. clandestine communications. 
Until Monday last she cherished a hope of getting back among 
the other prisoners, where she might still prosecute her 
schemes ; but on that day I again refused her, and my refusal 
was such as it was hopeless for her to try to alter it.'' She 
continued in the dark, amusing herself by singing songs of her 
own composition, " too regular and too much studied for the 
productions of a genuine madwoman." She slept well and ate 
all the bread they gave her. The visitor, Mr. Crawford, saw 
her, and recommended another medical opinion. Accordingly 
Mr. White, the former surgeon to the establishment, was 
called in, and stated that her madness was assumed, but he 
recommended she still should be treated as a patient. 

Goaded at length by the continued annoyance, the governor 
writes to the committee as follows : " I submit that the case of 
Julia Newman calls for some decisive proceeding. There has 
been time enough — eleven days — to put to the test whether 
she is mad in reality or only in pretence. She has contrived 


to set all discipline at defiance^, continually singing so as to be- 
heard in every part of the establishment. Her conduct excites 
universal attention^ and furnishes an example of the grossest 
insubordination. If the prisoner is mad^ she ought forthwith 
to be sent to a madhouse ; if not, she ought to be sent abroad 
as incorrigible. Yesterday she showed a disposition to return 
to her senses, as if tired of the effort of simulation, but did not 
know how to get out of her assumed character. To-day she is 
as bad as ever. Is o doubt in time she would come all right, but 
in the meantime what is to be done with her ? I cannot venture 
to place her among other prisoners. If she is to be kept apart 
the whole time of her imprisonment (of which three and a half 
years are unexpired), there is every reason to expect a constant 
recurrence of violence and other modes of annoyance ; for sh& 
has no respect for authority, and after assaulting the governor 
and counterfeiting madness with impunity, she will be em- 
boldened to act as she likes. If put into a dark cell doubts as 
to her sanity will arise, and perhaps her own self-abandonment 
to violence may superinduce real madness, and then it will be 
said that our system at the Penitentiary had driven her out of 
her mind. She is far too dangerous a prisoner to be sent into a 
ward with other prisoners. She has already tampered with 
eight or ten prisoners, perhaps more." 

There is no end to her deception. In one of the 
papers taken from her she asserted that certain property 
was secreted in a flower-pot, and buried in a garden 
in Goswell Street, at the house of one Elderton. The 
governor applied to Sir F. Roe, at Bow Street, who said,. 
"Newman has been before me already. She was charged 
in an anonymous letter with infanticide ; but on investigation, 
I found the letter was a malicious composition of this Mr. 
Elderton. The letter contained many revolting particulars,, 
and charged Newman with the utmost barbarity." The letter 
was sent for and examined by Mr. Nihil, who at once recog- 
nised the writing as Newman's own; and she had evidently 
written it with the object of ruining Elderton^s character, and 
to appear herself as the victim of a conspiracy. " So wily^ 
ingenious, clever, and unprincipled a deceiver as this prisoner 
cannot, I submit, after all that has passed, be placed amongst. 


others -without endangering the subordination and discipline 
of the whole ward ; and unless the committee are prepared to 
direct that she be kept altogether apart, I hope they will bring 
the matter to a crisis and send her abroad." 

For a month this violence of demeanour continued. She 
was found "uniformly ungovernable." In her cell, when 
searched at regular intervals, clandestine writings are always 
discovered ; in one of which was a long and critical examina- 
tion of the character of the young Queen, who had just come 
to the throne. Mr. Nihil begins to despair. '' Julia Newman 
having continued her pretended madness up to the present 
time, to the frequent disturbance of the prison, and having 
committed innumerable breaches of order, it became my duty 
to put a stop to her proceedings." 

There was no chance of getting rid of her by transporta- 
tion, as the last shipload of female convicts for that season had 
sailed, and there would be no other till the spring. " This 
being the case, I thought it necessary to converse with the 
prisoner, with a view of convincing her of the folly of carrying 
on her attempts, and warning her of the consequence of any 
further disturbance. I found her with her head fantastically 
dressed, and other ridiculous accompaniments. She would not 
hear me — darted out of her cell — stopped her ears, and uttered 
several violent exclamations. I made several attempts at 
expostulation, but in vain, and therefore I sent her to the 
dark." The surgeon thought her madness all deception. 
Again : " As my visits to Julia Newman are only signals for 
violence, I have abstained from visiting her in the dark, but 
inquired into her demeanour from the surgeon. He said that 
in his presence she affected to beat herself violently, and 
passionately to wish for death. Afterwards, in a manner very 
unlike a madwoman, she said she had been put into a dark 
cell, but it was a matter of perfect indifference to her whether 
she was in a dark or light cell. As the surgeon turned away 
she swore at him violently." Next day she hammers out her 
drinking-cup quite flat; and when being locked up for the 
night, asserts loudly that she is quite well, sings and shouts 
violently. "There was an obvious effort of bravado in her 
madness." Still the same report comes from the surgeon 


" J. N. continues her affected madness/' The governor sends 
word he will let her out of the dark as soon as she promises to 
behave herself; and then Miss Neave, one of the lady visitors, 
goes to her by the governor's request, *' in the hope that the 
conversation of a lady, against whom she could have no preju- 
dice, might have a salutary effect," It proved ineffectual. 
The prisoner said she did not want to be preached to; would 
not listen to a word from Miss Neave, threw water at her, 
singing also, and shouting in a most powerful voice, so as to 
baffle all her attempts. Miss Neave was quite convinced the 
prisoner's insanity was feigned, and that she was only acting 
a part. At length she is removed to a sleeping cell in the 
infirmary for treatment, and here, after a first paroxysm of 
rage, in which she smashes a basin into atoms, she assumes a 
timid aspect, and when spoken to by the taskmistress, weeps 
like a child. '^ In the hope she might be a little softened,-" 
says Mr. Nihil, " I spoke to Miss Frazer, another of the visit- 
ing ladies, who agreed to go to Newman, saying that Julia 
had always received her with gentleness and apparent pleasure. 
On this occasion, however, Newman behaved with frightful 
violence, refusing to have any visit, dashing her can upon the 
table, and seeming as if she would strike Miss Frazer if she 
could. She had already blackened her own eyes, and she 
appeared so possessed by despair, that Miss Frazer thought 
she might do herself some serious injury, and that her hands 
should be secured.-" 

Two days later we read : " Julia Newman is worse than 
ever. The doctors say she is not mad, at least Dr. Monro 
did. Mr. Wade is doubtful." The governor himself being 
of opinion that she is only carrying on a deep scheme, "I 
suggested," he says, " to Mr. Wade, a day or two ago, that if 
any circumstance had arisen to make it probable that she was 
really deranged, we had better have another opinion, and 
send her to Bedlam ; but there does not seem any ground for 
this step. But is the prisoner to defy all authority, now that 
the doctor has removed her from the dark to the infirmary? 
Certainly not. I therefore called upon the doctor to report 
whether there was any danger in subjecting her to fresh 
punishment for fresh offences ? " The surgeon thinks there 


would "be considerable risk in sending her to tlie dai-k cell on 
bread and water at present. " Had I received a different 
answer^ I should have proceeded forthwith to act upon the 
reports against her; but the committee will see how I am 
situated. She is too ill for punishment, and gets more violent 
and refractory than ever. Her acts of misconduct are : re- 
fusing to take her dinner^ tearing up her Prayer-Book, singing 
loudly all the fore part of the evening, and refusing her break- 
fast; grazing her nose, so that her face presents the most 
frightful appearance; asking for a can of water, and then 
throwing it all over the taskmistress." No farther steps are 
taken at the moment, beyond providing a special strait waist- 
coat to be used in case of emergency. But she still continues 
to be in the dark. About 7 p.m. that evening she is heard 
screaming loudly. After some time the governor sends to ask 
the surgeon if he was aware of it. Answer comes to say 
doctor was ill in bed. Second message (oh, cunning Governor- 
Oeneral) : '' Would it be objectionable to her health to remove 
her to the dark?" Surgeon, asking only to be left in peace, 
replies, "Nothing to prevent her being placed anywhere." 
This is all the governor wants. Off she goes to the dark, 
where she remains till she is reported to be singing as loudly 
as ever in her cell, and won't give up her rug. Next she is 
found lying on her back, with a handkerchief knotted tightly 
around her neck. As soon as she was better, she uttered the 
following impromptu : 

" What a pity hell's gates are not kept by dame King, 
So surly a cur would let nobody in " — 

Mrs. King being the infirmary warder. Then the assistant 
chaplain visited her, and was treated with the utmost 
insolence. She attacked Mrs. Dyett, another matron, and 
knocked the candlestick out of her hand, " triumphing at the 
same time at her exploit. Upon this I ordered her to be con- 
fined in the strait-waistcoat made expressly for her under 
the directions of the surgeon.'" Some time after this the 
doctor visits her, and finds she has not only rid herself of the 
restraint, but she has also torn the waistcoat and most of her 
own clothes to atoms. Nevertheless, he thinks her so unwell 


that lie removes her again to the infirmary. From this, in the 
course of a few days she returns to her ward. The cell, how- 
ever, could not hold her, and she soon forced her way out into 
the passage. Another new, and much stronger strait-waistcoat, 
specially constructed, was now put on her by a couple of male 
officers. Within an hour or two it was found slashed to 
ribbons, and on a close search a pair of scissors were discovered 
under her arm, accounting no doubt for the destruction. 

Her next offence is to slap a matron in the face. Again 
the strait-waistcoat is tried, this time a newer and a still 
stronger one ; but it is found too large to be of any use, so she 
is sent to the dark instead. 

For a time she appears tamed, and for quite a month she 
remains quiet, though still " uncomfortable.^^ She is, how- 
ever, next reported for making three baskets from the straw of 
her mattress and part of the leaves of her Bible. She has 
written a long incoherent statement, probably with a stocking 
needle for pen, and some blood and water for ink. The 
warders when questioned showed great lack of desire to 
perform their duties. "The truth is, the prisoner is very 
difficult to deal with, and they are all more or less afraid of 
her. It is no wonder that a person of her strength, violence, 
and mental superiority, combined with reckless determination 
and obstinacy, should inspire these terrors ; and I really can- 
not blame these officers. Without perpetually searching her 
person, as well as her bedding, it would be impossible to guard 
against the practices just reported, but . this would occasion 
perpetual disturbance, leading to no good end, but doing much 
mischief in the Penitentiary." Convinced that Millbank means 
of punishment are totally inadequate to attain the end of re- 
forming her, or compelling her to obey the rules, the governor, 
to avoid constant worry, is content to leave her quite to herself, 
keeping her apart — in itself a heavy punishment — and re- 
stricting her to bread and water when she broke the rules. 

Newman, however, would not consent to be forgotten. Her 
next offence was to refuse to give out her cell stool, and when 
the door was opened she flung it with great violence at her 
warder's head, but the latter fortunately evaded the blow. 
The governor and the male officers together repaired to the 

THE WOMEK • 21^ 

spot in order " to remove this most rebellious and dangerous 
prisoner to the dark. Her subsequent conduct has been o£ 
the same stamp. None but the most prominent features admit 
of being reported, her life here being in fact one continued 
system of insult and contempt. In the dark cell she levelled 
her tin can at the surgeon, and the contents fell upon the task- 
mistress; had either of them been struck by the vessel it 
might have been of serious consequence. Her cell has since 
been examined, and several figures and other articles have 
been discovered. They exhibit extraordinary resource and 
ingenuity, unhappily directed to the flagitious purpose of 
destroying property and manifesting contempt of authority." 

As soon as she went to the dark, the surgeon recommended 
that she should be removed to the infirmary, as she appeared 
much exhausted. " I thought it necessary to remonstrate 
against this, as it appeared ill-timed lenity. I am very reluc- 
tant to liberate the prisoner from punishment for several 
reasons. Every fresh victory which, under the plea of ill- 
health, she has achieved has been productive of increased 
insolence ; and I have often lamented to see her indulged with 
arrowroot and similar niceties at the very time she has been 
defying all authority. The female officers entertain just appre- 
hensions in waiting on her in the usual manner when restored 
to a sleeping cell, and with regard to the mode of punishing 
her on fresh offences I am quite perplexed. I might again 
send her to the dark, again to be restored in an unsubdued 
state to a sleeping cell, and so on continually, but I am obliged 
to resort to male assistance, and this I find by experience has 
a very injurious effect upon the other female prisoners, many 
of whom take it into their heads to brave all female authority, 
and require the men to be sent for before they will submit." 
The governor thinks, " All prisoners whose insubordinate spirit 
does not yield to the ordinary method of treatment, should be 
reported as incorrigible, and removed. . . . The moral injury 
they do to the residue by long continued examples of rebellion 
is incalculable." 

The assistant chaplain reports on 12th December, that he 
found Julia Newman exceedingly exhausted, and that the 
news of a letter from Trinidad to her mother failed to rouse 


her. Slie had only eaten a little of the crust of her hread, and 
he was alarmed as to the consequences which might follow if 
she were allowed to remain longer in the dark celL Mr. Nihil 
is still firm. " I remarked that her exhaustion was owing not 
to confinement in a dark cell, but to an obstinate refusal to 
eat her bread; and that I could not compel her to eat; and 
that if she would not eat unless humoured in this instance, she 
might as well refuse to eat unless I let her out of the prison, 
and that I should not be justified in complying from appre- 
hension of danger to her health thus wilfully incurred. In 
like manner it seemed now as if she chose to starve herself 
because she was not allowed to throw stools at the heads of 
ofiicers. But of course I have no desire to keep her under 
punishment a moment after she shows a disposition to conform 
to the regulations, and maintain that quietness I am here to 

The surgeon was now sent for, and asked what he thought. 
He was afraid it would be necessary to remove her on the 
ground of safety, being persuaded she would sacrifice her life 
sooner than yield. 

" If you think she cannot be kept under punishment with 
safety, I must submit to your opinion,'' says the governor. 
*'It is for you to determine that, otherwise I must distinctly 
object; for the duties of my office will not permit me to give 
in to her while she continues insubordinate." 

" It's not the dark cell," replied the doctor, " that consti- 
tutes her danger, but her persistent refusal to eat so long as 
she is kept there." 

"Very well, then," said the governor; "'you may remove 
her. I cannot stand in the way and prevent you from acting 
on your own judgment." 

The surgeon went, and in five minutes returned. 


" There's not much the matter with her yet. Directly she 
saw me she began to sing and scream, with a voice as loud as 
if she had lived always on solid meat. She pelted me with 
bread — refused to come and have her pulse felt — abused, 
insulted me in every way, and finally said she was just as well 
in the dark as anywhere else." 


Under these circumstances it was decided to leave her 
■where she was for the present, especially as a forcible removal 
might have created a general disturbance in the prison. 

The next step in the case was her removal to Bethlehem 
Hospital as mad. But even this was misconstrued; for when, 
in the February following (1838), a discussion arose in the 
House of Lords as to alleged ill-treatment of prisoners in the 
Penitentiary, Newman's case was mentioned as one in which, 
on the other hand, culpable leniency had been shown. Those 
who found fault declared that she had been sent to an asylum, 
not because she was mad, but because by birth a lady. The 
same people declared that it was well known she was not mad, 
and that she never had been. The matrons at Bethlehem knew 
this well, and had told her to her face that she was only 
feigning; whereupon she ceased to feign. Then as it was 
clear she was not mad, it was equally clear that Bethlehem 
was not the place for her. Accordingly, she was returned to 
the Penitentiary ; and back she came, exhibiting throughout 
the most sullen contempt, and persistently refusing to open 
her lips. Directly she returned she again began her tricks. 
Deliberately insolent refusal to execute the orders she received, 
and open contempt of punishment, were the leading points on 
which she differed with the authorities. Again the governor 
urges on the committee that she may be removed " by trans- 
portation," she being, under existing circumstances, both 
intractable and incorrigible. " If I am to maintain discipline 
where she is, it must be by entering perpetually into fresh and 
perplexing contests, the outcome of which may be very awful 
as respects the prisoner and exceedingly embarrassing as- 
respects the Institution." She next pretends to wish to lay 
hands upon herself, and her rug is found torn up and con- 
verted into a noose. It was hanging to a peg in her cell, like 
a halter ready for use. The authorities thence considered it. 
advisable therefore to place her in restraint, in a new strait- 
waistcoat which fitted close. In an hour or two she had torn 
it all to pieces. The next proceeding was to confine her 
hands in a very small pair of handcuffs, and to pinion her 
arms with strong tape. The waistcoat appearing to have been 
cut, she and her cell was searched, but no knife or scissors 


could be found, but only a piece of broken glass wbicli she 
must baveused fortlie purpose. Sbe soon afterwards loosened 
tbe tape, and was then bound with, strong webbing to the 
bedstead. Next morning she was found to have got rid o£ 
the handcuffs, had cut the webbing to pieces, broken her 
windows, and destroyed her bedding. One of the female 
warders was therefore sent to a surgical instrument maker's 
to purchase some effectual instrument of restraint, and 
returned with a muff-belt and handcuffs, all united, and 
ingeniously contrived to defeat the struggles of lunatics — 
quite a new invention. Before long she completely destroyed 
the muff and got rid of the handcuffs attached to it. She was 
next secured to the wall by a stout chain. 

An officer, Mrs. Drago, who visited her just now, asked 
her why she could make such a figure of herself, pretending 
to be mad too, when she wasn't. " I've been advised to do it 
by my solicitor. If I can only get out, I'll soon manage to 
get my mother out. I'm a person of large fortune, and can 
make it worth any one's while to do me a good turn. Mrs. 
Bryant used to, but she's gone. That used to be my larder, 
over there " — pointing to the window blind. Her evident 
object was to tamper with Mrs. Drago, and this of itself gave 
evidence that she could not be very mad. 

The chain by which she is now confined was put round 
her waist, passed through a ring in the wall and padlocked. 
" This security was of short duration : before morning she had 
slipped through the chain. It was again placed on her in a 
more effectual manner, under, instead of outside her 
clothes. ... As she had destroyed so much of her bedding 
I ordered her to have no more bed-clothes. In the evening 
she made the most violent demand for a blanket, and said 
she was dying of cramp and cold. . . . As a matter of dis- 
cipline I thought it my duty to refuse the blanket unless 
ordered by the surgeon. When she heard this she quite 
frightened the female officer with the frightful and horrible 
imprecations she uttered." 

In consequence of her getting out of her chain the manu- 
facturer of restraints for the insane came to devise some fresh 
expedient for confining her. He made a pair of leather sleeves 


of extra strength, and fitted tliem himself. They came up to 
her shoulders, were strapped across, then also strapped round 
her waist, and again below, fastening her hands close to her 

Nest morning the taskmistress took the sleeves to the 
governor. In the night Julia had extricated herself from 
them, and then cut them into ribbons, using a piece of glass 
she had secreted. A new strait-waistcoat was now made for 
her, and she was specially measured by the manufacturer 
already mentioned; but it could not be ready before the 
morning, so she was left without restraint that night. Many 
of the officials were afraid she would commit suicide, but not 
Mr. Nihil. However, next morning she was found with her 
clothes torn to rags, and part tied tightly round her neck. As 
a measure of precaution the new strait-waistcoat was then put 
on, after she had been first carefully searched. A strong 
collar was also put round her neck to prevent her biting at the 
waistcoat with her teeth. " I lament exceedingly," says Mr. 
Nihil, " the necessity of resorting to such measures ; but what 
is to be done with this violent and obstinate girl ? " Next 
morning she was found to have got at the waistcoat with her 
teeth in spite of the collar, then one hand loose, after which 
she relieved herself of the apparatus altogether. 

She was now left free, while fresh devices were sought 
to restrain her, but in the midst of it all came an order for 
her removal to Van Diemen's Land, whither she was in a 
day or two conveyed in the Nautilus convict ship. And here 
the curtain falls upon her. 




In the midst of all this, while Mr. Nihil, backed up by his 
committee, was working thus indefatigably and with the best 
intentions, the credit of the establishment over which thej 
reigned was suddenly impugned in no measured terms. It was 
doubtful indeed whether the ship could weather the storm of 
invective that broke upon it. Had the managers of Millbank 
been ogres instead of painstaking philanthropists working for 
the public good, they could not have been more rancorously 
assailed. But here was a case where people suffered because 
their rulers squabbled. It was a period when party warfare 
ran high, and the Opposition hailed eagerly any opportunity of 
bringing discredit upon the Ministry. The attack made upon 
the Penitentiary was really directed against the Government. 
On the 26th of February, 1838, a noble lord rose in his 


place to call tlie attention of the House of Lords to a grave 
iailure in the administration of criminal justice. '^All 
London, the whole country was ringing with it/' said another 
noble lord. " It had been a topic of universal reprobation 
co-extensive with the hourly increasing sphere in which it 
has been known. All Westminster had talked of it, all 
Middlesex has pointed its eyes to the quarter in which the 
abuse occurred. I will venture to say/' continued his lord- 
ship, '' that it has been more talked of, more discussed, more 
indignantly commented upon, in every corner of this great 
town and of this populous country, than any one subject either 
in or out of Parliament, or in any one of the courts of j ustice, 
civil or criminal.'' * It appeared that in Millbank, a prison 
exempt from the general jurisdiction of the county magistrates, 
and governed only by the Home Secretary, there had occurred 
five cases of unwarranted harshness and cruelty. Three little 
girls and two fine young men had been completely broken down 
by the system of solitary confinement therein practised. The 
children were mere infants : one, as it was alleged, was little 
more than seven years old ; the other two were eight and ten 
respectively. Yet at this tender age they had been cut off 
entirely from the consoling influences of home and the 
kindly intercourse of relatives and companions, to be immured 
in solitary wretchedness for nearly thirteen consecutive months. 
So bitterly did these little ones lament the loneliment of their 
lengthened seclusion, that one asked piteously for a doll to 
keep her company, and all three were found at different times 
sleeping with their bed-clothes twisted to simulate a baby, 
so earnestly did they yearn for something like ideal society in 
their dreary confinement. More than this : the punishment of 
continued solitude had produced in them a marked infirmity 
of mind, manifested by great impediment of speech, and 
general difficulty in the expression of ideas. A gentleman, 
one of the Middlesex magistrates, who had visited the Peni- 
tentiary, described the effect upon their speech such as to 
render their voices " feeble, low, and inarticulate — to produce 
a kind of inward speaking, visible too, and palpable to every 
one who heard them." So much for the children. As to the 
* Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, xli. p. 82 sqq. 



young men, one of them wlio had previously been remarkable- 
for great activity and intelligence, came out in a state of 
idiotcy, and was afterwards retained as an idiot in St. Maryle- 
bone workhouse, reduced to such a state of utter and helpless 
imbecility as to be incapable of being employed even in 
breaking stones. The other was similarly affected. And yet 
all this was contrary to law. Here were prisoners subjected 
to uninterrupted solitary confinement for twelve or thirteen 
months, when by a recent Act it was expressly ordered that no 
such punishment should last for more than one month at a 
time, and never for more than three months in the year.- 
Circumstances very disgraceful beyond doubt, if the charge 
were only proved, and entaihng a weight of awful responsibility 
on those who were accountable to the public. 

As the attack was made without a word of warning. Lord 
Melbourne, at that time the head of the Government, was 
unable to defend himself. All he could urge was that the 
House should reserve its opinion until upon a close investi- 
gation the grievances and evils alleged should be proved to 
exist. He deprecated the broaching of such a serious topic 
without due notice. Had such notice been given, some one 
would have been prepared with details to answer the charges 
made, and to show how far they were correct, how far ex- 
aggerated or far-fetched; now, any explanation, however 
satisfactory, must come a little too late. The first word was 
of the utmost importance in all controversy. The effect of 
a calm artful statement was not easily removed. Supported 
by such powerful advocacy the impeachment of the Peniten- 
tiary must have sunk deep into the mind of every listener. 
Yet he felt certain that the whole statement was exaggerated 
and over-coloured; of this he had, indeed, no doubt, but he- 
must claim a little time before he made a specific reply. 

Next night he stated that full inquiry had been made 
In the first place the ages of the children had been under- 
stated. Each of them was at least ten years old. But 
this was not a point of any very material importance. They 
were all three very profligate children. One of the worst 
signs of the day was the great increase of crimes committed 
by children of tender age. The principal cause of this was„ 


BO doubt, the wickedness of parents, who made their children 
the instruments for carrying out their own evil designs. In 
the present instance the three girls had been guilty of theft 
and sentenced to transportation, but they were recommended 
for the Penitentiary solely to remove them for a lengthened 
period from the influence of their parents, and to give the 
Government an opportunity of effecting a reform in their 
charact^ and conduct. The only place suitable for such an 
attempt was the Millbank Penitentiary, and to this they were 
removed. This establishment was governed by rules laid 
down by the Lords' Committee of 1835, and, therefore, if 
undue severity had been practised, it must have been done in 
defiance of those rules. But it was quite untrue that any of 
these prisoners had been subjected to protracted solitary con- 
finement. There was no such thing in the Penitentiary 
except for prison offences, and then only for short periods. 
'' Separate confinement there certainly was, but solitary con- 
finement — complete seclusion, that is to say, without being 
seen, without going out to public worship — as a general 
practice is, I believe, unknown in the establishment. 

"These children took exercise regularly twice a day, for 
half an hour at a time, in company with other prisoners of 
their ward ; they had school also together twice a week ; went 
to chapel on Sunday ; and were regularly visited by benevolent 
Christian ladies (Mrs. Fry and her associates), who spent long 
hours in their cells. Surely their condition was not one of 
great hardship ! 

" The young men, Welsh and Ray, were notorious rogues, 
who had also been sent to the Penitentiary to effect, if pos- 
sible, some reformation in their ill-conducted and irregular 
lives. Their behaviour had been very rebellious and dis- 
orderly, but though they had been frequently punished they 
had left the Penitentiary at the expiration of their terms of 
imprisonment in perfect health and full possession of all their 

The Opposition laughed at the explanation. Not solitary 
confinement ? what was it then ? The children went out to 
exercise. Yes ; but they were not allowed to communicate or 
talk to one another. They went to church, and to school, but 

Q 2 


only for a few hours together in the week, and for the rest of 
the time they were shut up in their cells alone, utterly alone. 
Was not this solitary confinement ? The distinction Lord 
Melbourne has drawn between separate and solitary was 
flimsy, shadowy, and unsubstantial. When applied to children 
there was absolutely no difference whatever between the two. 
And were these accusations all unfounded then? Had they 
been disproved ? Not yet. Let the Government wait till then 
to assert that they were unfounded. Accordingly, a committee 
of the House was appointed to inquire and report upon the 
whole case. 

Of course it will be readily understood that the secret of 
all this coil was simply an effort to make political capital, and 
to blame Government for mismanagement of its public affairs. 
The excitement had owed its origin to '' sensational " articles 
in the morning papers, following a first sensational announce- 
ment at a public meeting of magistrates, of the awful doings 
that were perpetrated within the walls of the Millbank Peni- 
tentiary. In the House of Commons, when questioned. Lord 
John Russell had simply denied the allegations, which he 
characterised as totally false. And Mr. Nihil, who was behind 
the scenes, enters in his Journal that it was evident that the 
agitators had been made victims of the grossest delusion. 
Nevertheless, the committee met, took evidence, and at the 
end of a month sent in their report. It was quite con- 
clusive. The whole of the charges necessarily fell at once 
to the ground. " Oa the whole,^' they stated, summing up, 
'' the committee think it due to the officers of the Penitentiary 
to state, that all the convicts have been treated with all the 
leniency, and, in the case of the female children particularly, 
with all the attention to their moral improvement that was 
consistent with the rules laid down for the government of the 
Penitentiary." The children had come in dirty, ignorant, and 
in ill health ; they were now cleanly, had learnt to read, could 
make shirts, and were all quite well and strong. Nothing was 
wrong with their voices : one could shout as loud as any girl of 
her age, but she was shy before strangers ; the second led the 
singing of the hymns in her ward, though her voice was only 
of ordinary power, and had been even husky from the time of 


her reception ; the third usually spoke from choice in a low- 
tone, but she had been heard to shout often enough to other 
prisoners. It was quite evident, then, that in these three 
cases, not only had the cruelty been distinctly disproved, but 
it was equally clear that their imprisonment in the Penitentiary 
had been a positive benefit to the children in question. Nor 
was the charge a bit better substantiated in the case of the two 
"fine young men.'' Both of them had been cast for death at 
the Old Bailey, which was commuted afterwards to one year in 
the Penitentiary. One, Welsh, was a good-for-nothing vagrant, 
who had spent most of the seventeen years he had lived inside 
the Marylebone woi'khouse, and to this he had returned on his 
release from Millbank. He was a clever but unruly prisoner ; 
he could read and write well, and his faculties had been 
sharpened rather than impaired by his residence in prison. 
The master of the Marylebone workhouse was decidedly of 
opinion that he had improved much : he was more civil now 
than before, and he was greatly grown. Welsh said himself 
he had no fault to find with the Penitentiary ; in fact, he was 
quite ready to go back to it, if they would only take him in. 
But this Welsh was in the habit of counterfeiting idiotcy, 
either to procure some extra indulgences, or to amuse himself 
and others, and he played the part so well that many who saw 
him were deceived. 

William E,ay, the other " victim," was older, having 
reached his twenty-fifth year. He also had passed the greater 
part of his life in the Marylebone workhouse; but he had 
enlisted twice into the army, and had gone with Sir de Lacy 
Evans to Spain. He had been discharged for incompetence, 
and it was perfectly clear from the evidence taken, that he 
was a person of very weak intellect long before be became an 
inmate of the prison : he had a vacant countenance, a silly 
laugh, and a habit of blinking his eyes and tossing his head 
about. Still he perfectly understood what he was ordered to 
do. He had become a good tailor, and had improved in 

Thus all the chai'ges were disposed of ; the character of 
the Penitentiary was triumphantly vindicated, and Mr. Nihil 
was in a position to continue his onward progress undisturbed. 


Naturally, the system in force having been lield blameless, it 
might fairl}^ be continued without change. The system at 
that time was simply this : The prisoners slept in separate cells 
which opened into a common passage, and at the centre of the 
passage was the warder's bedroom. The cells were ten feet by 
seven, and had a partition wall between them fourteen inches 
thick. The entrance to each cell had two doors — one of open 
ironwork, the other of wood. At the first bell, every morning 
about daylight, the prisoners were let out to wash, about six or 
eight at a time ; and they then returned to their cells for the rest 
of the day, except during their two hours' exercise, and twice a 
week when they attended chapel and school. Their meals were 
brought to them in their cells by other prisoners let out for 
the purpose. The chaplain, assistant chaplain, and school- 
master were for ever visiting them. All day long the wooden 
door of the cell remained wide open, and there were plenty of 
opportunities of talking to their neighbours through the gate 
of iron grating, where even a whisper could be heard. They 
were always talking — at washing time, at exercise, even when 
in their cells, with both doors locked and bolted. Now this 
was manifestly not solitary confinement. Nay, more, it was 
not even separate confinement. But yet, without the latter, 
without perfect isolation and the prevention of all intercourse 
and intercommunication, it was felt by Mr. Nihil that his 
efforts to reform his prisoners were vain. Whatever good his 
counsels might accomplish was immediately counteracted by 
the vicious converse that still went on in spite of all attempts 
to check it. It was found that extensive communications were 
carried on ; that prisoners learned each other's histories, formed 
friendships and enmities, and contrived in many ways to do 
each other harm. Unless this were ended all hope of per- 
manent cure was out of the question. The governor and 
chaplain must have their material to themselves ; their process 
must not be interfered with while on its trial. It was not 
enough to turn over the new leaf : the page must be kept 
quite white and clean, it must not be sullied by the baneful 
talk of the old evil associates from which now the prisoner like 
a new man was weaned. Mr. Nihil says, in 1838, that he is in 
great hopes that by the thorough separation of the prisoners, 


important advantages in respect to the efficiency of imprison- 
ment and tlie reformation of tlie convicts wonld ensue. " The 
more perfect isolation of the prisoner by non-intercourse with 
iellow-criminals, not only renders the punishment more effective, 
but places him in a condition more susceptible of the good 
influences with which we seek to visit him — now constantly 
frustrated by communication through the wards." This 
sufficiently indicates Mr. NihiFs views, and from now hence- 
forth it is his earnest aim and object to carry them out. He 
endeavours to make the separation daily more and more 
■absolute, but not at first with success. Towards the end of 
the same year he reports as follows : " I feel it impossible to 
overrate the importance of using every effort to prevent com- 
munication between the prisoners. This is the most prominent 
regulation in our scheme of discipline ; but the fact is, that it 
is only superficially observed. Under an external exhibition 
of silence, there is an effectual enjoyment of extensive inter- 
course among the prisoners. This proves to anyone conversant 
with the working of our details that the rule is but a mockery, 
^and that this great object of our system is not attained." Not 
alone in the iniquities that come to light, showing the positive 
wickedness of the communications, the governor has forced 
upon his observation ^' an unsubdued and audacious spirit and 
«, fraudulent state of mind, clearly traceable to the combination 
and mutual impulse of everything wrong to which the inter- 
course of the prisoners gives rise." 

" Possibly for this gigantic evil corrections may be applied. 
The intercourse occurs at washing, going to and from exercise 
and chapel, at the machine, when walking, in chapel itself, 
at school, in the wards when unbolted, during the absence of 
the officers, in the infirmary, and lastly in their cells when alone 
at night. Chapel is the great occasion," goes on Mr. Nihil. 
^^ Their intercourse is developed into a trade. The going to 
and fro keeps the prisoners in a restless state, and the familiar 
lectures, at which they are questioned in company, super- 
induces vanity. The most forward and impudent are the 
most ready to answer, and they pride themselves on the 
display. . . . The chief result of chapel lectures is some 
■current familiarity with the leading doctrines of scripture 


unaccompanied by humility or genuine pious feeling.'^ In the 
same way little benefit resulted from the teaching at the night- 
schools. These schools were conducted by prisoner-monitors, 
who taught very indifferently; the warders exercised no 
supervision, and "this dry routine," Mr. Nihil observes, "of 
bandying sacred terms is apt to harden the mind." 

Again, the governor is of opinion there should be cellular 
accommodation in the infirmaries ; separation would diminish 
the instances of feigned indisposition. In the large wards 
they lounge away their time, enjoying plenty of good eating 
and drinking, with no lack of idle and corrupting talk. Their 
memories quite compensated for the deprivation of the style of 
literature they preferred, and it was proved that the substance 
of, or long quotations from many books of an improper 
character, were frequently heard, and that on one occasion a 
prisoner was known to repeat " Don Juan," aloud, from end ta 

So eager were the authorities to restrict the means of inter- 
course, that they were not above taking the advice of a prisoner 
on the subject. '^ His suggestions are such as a prisoner is 
qualified to give, being the fruits of experience, and an intimate 
acquaintance with the various devices that are practised." If 
talking was to be prevented, he said, several new arrangements 
must be made ; thus the officer, when prisoners were at exercise, 
instead of standing motionless should walk on an inner circle, 
in an opposite direction to the prisoners, so as to see their faces. 
The prisoners always talked directly the officer's back was 
turned. Nor should they be allowed to eat while in the yard : 
under the pretence of chewing they really were engaged in 
conversation. Again, to put an end to clandestine letters, all 
the blank pages of library books should be numbered and 
frequently examined, so that none might be abstracted and 
used as writing paper. Nor should any whiting be issued to 
clean the pewters : the prisoners only used it to lay a thick 
white coat upon any damped paper, thus making a surface to 
write upon. By scraping off the whiting the same paper could 
be used over and over again. To make a pencil they scraped 
their pewter pints, then with the heat from the tailor's iron, 
with which many were supplied, they ran these scrapings into 


a mould. Lastly, all searcliing of cells and prisoners should 
be more frequent and complete ; care should be taken in the 
latter case to examine the cuff and collar of the jacket, the 
Avaistband and the lower part of the legs of the trousers, and 
the cap. In the cells, the bedding, all cracks in floor or shop- 
board, and the battens or little pieces below the tables should 
be thoroughly overhauled. With such precautions as these 
much might be effected ; nevertheless, said the informer, mis- 
conduct must always continue, for prisoners often incurred 
reports solely to gain the character of heroes. 

And so with the new year many further changes were 
introduced. All the governor's recommendations were adopted, 
and not a few of the suggestions last quoted, in spite of the 
source from which they came. Within a week or two — rather 
soon, perhaps — the governor considers that the new discipline 
works extremely well. " Eeports diminish, and the control of 
officers is more complete. Ill-tempered prisoners evinced 
great annoyance at the change ; but by meeting this spirit by 
firmness and good temper it has, I trust, been repressed." 
Three months later he notices a distinct improvement in 
behaviour, traceable beyond question to the new rules. 
Prisoners formerly constantly reported now quite quiet, and 
in a very good state of mind — tractable, submissive, and 
grateful. " Several had learned to read; and many evinced a 
softened and subdued tone of feelings, and thanked God they 
had been brought to the Penitentiary. Some expressed a 
grateful sense of the value of the late regulations. One youth 
told me that previously they might almost as well have been in 
the same room with a crowd. ... In Thomas Langdale, 
a desperate housebreaker and a very depraved man, the most 
hopeful change has taken place. He has written a most artless 
and interesting letter to his wife. . . . Some prisoners 
have acquired a great mastery over their violent tempers, and 
look quite cheerful and happy. ... A few only stil 
manifest great discontent." 

All that year the principle has ample trial. In April, 1840, 
the governor asserts that in his opinion the state of the prison 
is highly satisfactory. The prisoners, as testified by their 
letters (which were meant for him to see), were as happy as the 


day was long. They liad good food, good clotliiug, and spoke 
■with gratitude of the provision made for their religious in- 
struction. Moreover, now the reins are as tight as they can 
he drawn. " Separation has within the last two years been 
much more carried out than formerly, and the effect has been, 
very materially to reduce offences and punishments, and to 
promote reformation.''-' His great difficulty now is that he 
•cannot ventilate the cell without opening the door to 
communication. In fact he might seem to wish to seal up his 
prisoners hermetically ; but he says, '' I do not mean to 
advocate long separation from all social communication. I 
should prefer a system of regulated intercourse upon a plan of 
classification and superintendence and mutual education, 
guarded by occasional separation. What I object to is nominal 
separation accompanied with secret fraudulent vicious com- 
munication. Health is certainly a great consideration, but 
are morals less ? Ought health to be sought by the rash 
demolition of an important moral fence ? If health is alone to 
be looked to it would be very easy to suggest very simple 
means for keeping the prisoners in general good health ; 
but then the objects of imprisonment would be altogether 
frustrated. Considering these objects indispensable, and that 
one of them is the moral reformation of the prisoners, I 
conceive it would be much better to leave them to the remedy 
of opening their cell windows for fresh air." 

Mr. Nihil's notions were certainly clearly developed. He 
was not for half measures. But in his extreme eagerness 
to push his theory as far as it could go, he actually courted 
failure. He was apparently blinded by a misconception of 
phrases. So long as he steered clear of what was called 
solitary confinement he thought he was safe. But he forgot 
that the more separation was insisted upon, the more nearly 
solitude was approached. In point of fact there was absolutely 
no distinction between the separate confinement practised at 
Millbank, and that solitary confinement which had already 
been universally condemned, and which by law was not to be 
inflicted except for very limited periods of time. Naturally 
the same fatal consequences, the inevitable results that follow 
such imprisonment protracted beyond the extreme limit, began 


to be plainly visible. Cases of insanity or 'weakened intellect 
came to light, first in solitary instances, tben more and more 
frequently. The committee were compelled to run counter to 
Mr. Nihil, and relax the rigorous separation from which he hoped 
to effect so much. I find in their report for 1841 that they 
■consider it necessary to make great alterations in the discipline of 
the institution. " In consequence of a distressing increase in the 
number of insane prisoners, the committee, under sanction of 
the medical superintendent, came to the resolution that it 
would be unsafe to continue a system of strict separation for 
the long periods to which the ordinary sentences of the 
prisoners extend. They therefore propose that the system 
should be relaxed with regard to all classes of prisoners except 
two ; viz., military prisoners whose sentences were extremely 
short, and persons convicted of unnatural offences ; and that 
to all other prisoners the prohibition of intercourse should be 
limited to the first three months after their admission, and 
that upon the expiration of that period they should be placed 
upon a system of modified intercourse/^ But they surrendered 
their views evidently with the utmost reluctance, and remarked 
further in this report that " they are, however inclined to 
believe that no scheme of discipline in which intercourse 
between prisoners, however modified, forms an essential part, 
is ever likely to be made instrumental either to the prevention 
of crime or to the personal reformation of convicts to the same 
degree as a system of separation. Whether the latter system 
can be rendered compatible with the maintenance of the 
mental sanity of the prisoners is a subject of much controversy, 
and can only be determined by actual experiment, accom- 
panied by such advantages as are proposed in the Model 

This model prison was that built at Pentonville, under the 
active supervision of Colonel Jebb, E.E,, and a board of 
commissioners specially appointed by the Secretary of State. 
The first stone was laid in April, 1840, and it was occupied by 
prisoners in December, 1842. 

But it now becomes plainly evident that the waters are 
beginning to close over the Penitentiary. There are people 
outside its walls who are clearly not its friends, if not 


exactly open enemies. Thus dissatisfaction finds voice in 
the House of Commons, -where, on the ]5th March, 1841, 
Mr. Alderman Copeland asks for certain information which 
the prison authorities must have found it awkward to 
supply. This return called for was to show (1) the num- 
bers sent to the Penitentiary during the past fi^e years ; (2) 
the numbers removed during that period for insanity, (3) 
for bad health, (4) pardoned, (5) died; and last of all it 
was to be stated how often the several members of the 
committee attended during the year. Here were evident 
symptoms that the public were not well pleased either with the 
results obtained at Millbank or with the services of its amateur 
managers. More plain-spoken still is the report issued by the 
inspector of prisons in 1842, in which the system of discipline 
enforced throughout the prison is characterised as "most 
unsatisfactory .'' " It is neither calculated to deter from 
crime, nor contribute to the personal reformation of the 
prisoner.-*' About this time, too, was unearthed the great 
bugbear of the unhealthiness of the site — a fatal and unfair 
imputation from which Millbank to this day is unable to shako 
itself quite free. Still there was some foundation for the 
objection at the particular time of which I am writing, A 
formidable epidemic of dysentery had run through the prison 
in 184], and in the following year Dr. Baly, the medical super- 
intendent, gave it as his opinion that "the diarrhoea and 
dysentery prevalent in the prison are due to the malarious 
influence arising from the low, damp, and undrained ground 
immediately surrounding the Penitentiary ; " and he finds that 
"other institutions in similar localities have been peculiarly 
subject to the same disease." His remedy was that "all 
unoccupied ground round about should be carefully drained, 
that the filling in of the moat should be completed, and that 
the deposit of decaying filth and vegetable matter upon the 
surrounding surfaces should be carefully removed and not 
allowed again to accumulate.-" 

These and other necessary improvements in the immediate 
neighbourhood have long since been carried out, and with 
their completion the whole of the objections necessarily fell to 
the ground. But it is not so easy to silence the tongue of 


false report, or to reliabilitate people or things wliose reputa- 
tion has once been impugned. Down to this day (1875) there 
are rumours afloat condemning the site as unhealthy; and 
even in the face of positive evidence to the contrary, the charge 
is still maintained. But those who are most concerned know 
that Millbank is as salubrious as any part of London. To prove 
this I may advance such an unanswerable argument as that 
there has been no epidemic known in the place since 1854. 
Since that date also there have been two, and only two cases of 
typhoid fever, both of which were imported. Again, although 
London has been visited by the scourge of cholera more than 
once, not one single attack occurred in Millbank in all those 
years. Besides this, Millbank for the last twenty years has 
exhibited an entire freedom from zymotic diseases ; and 
although this may be suflicient to retrieve its character as a 
generally healthy site, more remains to show that for its own 
special functions it is eminently suitable. Pulmonary con- 
sumption, which may be characterised as the true prison 
scourge, is in this prison conspicuous by its absence. Ov^er and 
above all that I have advanced, I may add tbat Millbank may 
stand low, but Buckingham Palace is really lower ; and that 
the health of all who dwell within the walls, or in its immediate 
neighbourhood, appears from the returns of the Registrar 
General to compare advantageously with that of any district 
in London. 

But that which can be triumphantly refuted at this late 
date could not be authoritatively denied in 1842. Perhaps, 
too, the charges rested on a certain foundation of fact ; though 
it is more than possible that the continual use of Thames water 
for drinking purposes was really more to blame than tlie 
actual unhealthiness of the site. This is a point which Dr. 
Baly missed, but it came out afterwards. 

But one way and another, from one cause added to the 
other, the Penitentiary was drawing nearer and nearer to its 
doom. At length its deathblow came, accelerated doubtless 
by the sweeping alterations contemplated in our whole system 
of secondary punishments. These changes, by which also the 
whole constitution of the Penitentiary was changed, will be 
detailed at length in my second volume, and the closing 


cliapter o£ this sliall be devoted to winding up the affairs of 
old Millbank. 

It was on the 5th May, 1843, that Sir James Graham, 
then Home Secretary, introduced a Bill for the better regula- 
tion of the Penitentiary. The House must be fully aware, he 
said, of the Report (the Eighth Eeport of the Inspector of 
Prisons) in which it was stated that as a Fenitentiary, '' Mill- 
bank Prison had been an entire failure." Its functions, therefore, 
in that respect were now to cease. But the next thing was to 
consider what use might be made of it, for it was a large 
building and had many conveniences for a prison. Just at 
this moment, however, the Government had determined to 
carry out a certain new classification of all convicts sentenced 
to transportation. In other words, felons were to suffer this 
punishment in different degrees, according to their condition 
and character. Bat to ascertain in which category offenders 
should be placed a time of probation and proof was needed, 
and this period should be passed at some general depot, where 
for nine or ten months the character of each convict might be 
tested. Millbank was admirably suited for the purpose. From 
thence, after the necessary interval, the juveniles were to be 
sent on to the new prison at Parkhurst, the best and most 
promising convicts to Pentonville, the rest to the hulks, but 
one and all only in transitu to the Antipodes. 

Nothing now remained but for the Penitentiary Committee 
to go through the ceremony of the " Happy Despatch ; " for 
by the new arrangements the control of the prison was to be 
vested in a body of Government Inspectors, and of a governor 
acting under them. In a letter to the Secretary of State the 
committee, while acknowledging that their time has come, aro 
clearly anxious to justify themselves in the eyes of the public. 
The system of modified intercourse which they had introduced,, 
and for which they were to a certain extent blamed, was forced 
upon them, they said, by the prevalence of insanity under their 
former rules. They were, however, prepared to admit that the 
plan substituted had been most unsatisfactory in its results 
on morals and discipline, and they fully approved of the 
new and improved arrangements which were now to come 


into force ; at the same time they expressed a fear " that 
the effect of adopting the plan will be to divest the institu- 
tion in a great measure of its character as a Penitentiary/' 
Under the new system *' there will be a rapid succession of 
transports continually passing through the prison; and the 
shortness of their confinement, though very desirable on 
the score of health, will necessarily militate against the 
possibility of any great mental or moral improvement. 
Nothing is intimated as to the nature of the discipline to 
which the transports are to be subjected during their 
detention here. The committee, however, are satisfied that 
a vigorous system will be found necessary for the main- 
tenance of order among criminals of so depraved and 
desperate a character as the male transports are evidently 
expected to be. In short, it is obvious that an entirely new 
state of things is at hand, one never contemplated by any 
members of the committee when they originally consented to 
act; one moreover which will require, in their opinion, an 
active and unremitting superintendence such as tlieir other 
avocations render them incapable of undertaking." Therefore 
one and all of them were glad to resign their functions into 
other hands. But they " cannot conclude without remarking 
that the new system contemplated would never be properly 
administered by a clerical governor, even if he considered it 
consistent with his sacred functions to undertake such a 
charge. They are assured, however, by Mr. Nihil that he 
should deem it wholly incompatible with his character as a 
clergyman to consent to hold the office of governor under the 
new system ; they fully concur in his views and feelings on 
the subject, and they cannot permit themselves to doubt that 
you (the Home Secretary) will also concur in them." 

I find in the minutes of the committee on the 9th June, 
1843, that all members are requested to attend at their next 
meeting, "which would probably be their last." On the 16th 
June, therefore, there were present — the Right Hon. Earl 
Devon ; the Right Hon. Lord Colborne ; the Hon. F. S. 
Calthorpe ; the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M.P. ; Charles 
Ross, Esq.; Thomas Greene, Esq. ; William Gregson, Esq.; 



the Rev. Jolin Jennings; Benjamin Harrison, Esq.; Lieut.- 
Col. G. E. Nugent; Thomas E. Wheatley, Esq.; Edward 
Yansittart Neale, Esq. 

This is their last minute : — 

" As tlie Bill now pending in Parliament for effecting an entire change 
in this establishment will very shortly pass into law, and the committee 
may not have another opportunity of meeting, they are unwilling to sepa- 
rate to-day ■wdthout placing the following resolution on record : — 

" Resolved that the thanks of the committee be presented to the Eev. 
. D. Nihil, governor and chaplain, for the zeal, ability, and humanity with 
■which he has discharged his onerous duties, and especially for the earnest- 
ness with which he has uniformly endeavoured to render the administra- 
tion of the discipline subservient to the great moral and religious ends of 
the Penitentiary. 

At the same time they passed votes of thanks also to the 
assistant- chaplain, the medical superintendent, the matron, 
manufacturers, steward, and officers generally. And from 
that time forth Millbank, as a Penitentiary, ceased to exist. 


•r---^. '■ '. ..\x 




So the Millbank Penitentiary, tlie great reformatory and moral 
hospital, the costly machine in which had been sunk half a 
million of money, was nothing but a failure after all. Such 
was the opinion of ofl&cial inspectors, and this opinion was 
endorsed by the Secretary of State. Its great hopes and 
ambitious aims were therefore at an end : it was all a mistake, 
a mockery, a sham. After seven-and- twenty years of trial, 
unwearied efforts, and unlimited expense, there was nothing 
whatever to show. Even Mr. Nihil had admitted this much a 
year or two before. When examined by the Lords' Committee 
he had confessed that " as a means of reformation it had not 
been productive of as much good as might be anticipated.^' 
But at that time the Chaplain- Governor thought that his 
system had not had a fair and sufficient trial. There must be 
more separation, and there was — more and yet more in spite 
of dark forebodings — and still it was a failure. All at once, 
as we have seen, it collapsed and came to an end. 

But though the system might fail the buildings remained, 
and these, as we have also said, were still to be utilised, 
but in another form. Millbank was destined now to become 
the starting-point of the new method of carrying out 
transportation. Brought thus into intimate connection with 
another branch of secondary punishment — one indeed with 
which it had hitherto competed with varying success, till at 
length it became distinctly subordinate to it — something 
more than a passing reference to that other system seems 


called for in these pages. I propose therefore to recount, 
as briefly as the subject will permit, our plan of transporta- 
tion beyond the seas, and all that has come of it. And 
although I shall be compelled at first to retrace my steps to 
a date much earlier than that at which my narrative has 
arrived, I shall by taking up the subject thus late be 
enabled to test the actual value of transportation as compared 
with other methods of secondary punishment. 

I have already adverted to the rivalry that existed towards 
the end of last century between penal colonies and home 
penitentiaries; and I endeavoured to show how the latter, 
notwithstanding Howard's pleadings, had been eclipsed in the 
somewhat sentimental halo that surrounded transportation. 
No doubt, though based on theory rather than practice, 
though all its advantages were problematical if not entirely 
illusory, the principle of transportation was most attractive to 
statesmen and thinkers. For a long time after their inaugura- 
tion public opinion ran high in favour of penal establishments 
beyond the seas. " There was general confidence," says 
Merivale, ''in the favourite theory that the best mode of 
punishing offenders was that which removed them from the 
scene of offence and temptation, cut them off by a great gulf 
of space from all their former connections, and gave them the 
opportunity of redeeming past crimes by becoming useful 
members of society." Through whatever mire and discomfort 
it may have waded, beyond doubt Australia has risen to a rank 
and importance which entitles it to remember unabashed the 
origin from which the colony sprang, " It has long since 
outgrown the taint of its original impurity."* Another 
writer asserts that " on the whole, as a real system of punish- 
ment it (transportation) has failed ; as a real system of reform 
it has failed, as perhaps would every other plan : but as a means 
of making men outwardly honest ; of converting vagabonds 
most useless in one country, into active citizens in another, 
and thus giving birth to a new and splendid country, a grand 
centre of civilisation, it has succeeded to a degree perhaps 
unparalleled in history." f AH this is of course indubitable. 

* Merivale on Colonisation. 

t Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle. 


But in the process of manufacture, the mother country in fifty 
years expended eight millions of hard cash, and was more full 
of criminals than ever. 

The early history of New South Wales as told in the pages 
of Collins reads like a romance. Captain Arthur Phillip, R.N., 
the first governor, started from Portsmouth in the month of 
March, 1787, with nine transports and two men-of-war — the 
*' first fleet " of Australian annals. Unlike the Mayflower, 
bearing its Pilgrim Fathers, men of austere piety and worth, 
to the shores of New England, this first fleet carried convicts, 
criminals only, and their guards. Some vessels were laden 
deeply with stores, others with agricultural implements. 
Before the fleet was out of the Channel a plot was discovered 
among some of these desperate characters to seize the ship they 
were on board, and escape from the fleet. Nearing the Cape 
of Good Hope a second similar conspiracy came to light, and 
all through the voyage offences, such as thefts, assaults, 
abscondings, attempts to pass counterfeit coin, were numerous, 
and needed exemplary punishment. After a dreary eight 
months at sea, broken only by short stays at Teneriffe, 
Rio, and the Cape of Good Hope, the fleet reached Botany 
Bay in January, 1788. Never had name been more 
evidently misapplied. The luxuriant vegetation was all 
a myth, and on closer inspection the Botanists' Bay 
proved to be mere barren swamps and sterile sands. The 
anchorage though extensive was exposed, and in easterly 
gales torn by a tremendous surf. Before disembarking, there- 
fore, Captain Phillip determined to seek along the coast some 
site more suitable for the settlement. Starting with a select 
party in a small boat for Broken Bay, he passed en route an 
opening marked upon the chart as Port Jackson, named 
thus from the look-out man in Cook's ship, who had made it 
out from the mast-head. This is known now as one of the 
finest and most secure harbours in the world. Here in a cove, 
where there was deep water for ships of the heaviest burthen 
close in shore,* the foundations of the new town were to be 
laid. It was christened Sydney, after the peer of that name 
"who was at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies ; and 
* White : Journal of Voyage to New South Wales. 

R 2 


thither a party of convict artificers, guarded by marines, was^ 
at once removed to clear land for the intended settlement. 
When this was accomplished, the remainder of the colonists, 
1030 souls in all, were put on shore. 

There was plenty of work to be done, and but few hands 
available. Enlarged clearings were needed ; barracks, store- 
houses, hospitals, dwellings for the superior and other officers, 
huts for the convicts. Although at the time when the " first 
fleet " sailed, many thousands of convicts awaiting deportation 
crowded the various gaols of England, no attempt had been 
made to select for the new colony those who from their 
previous condition and training would have been most useful 
to the young community. Of the six hundred male convicts 
actually embarked, hardly any were skilled as artisans and 
mechanics. Nay more, though it was meant that the colony 
should be if possible self-supporting, and that every effort 
should be made to raise crops and other produce without 
delay, few, if any, of either the convicts or their keepers had 
had the least experience in agricultural pursuits. Yet with 
ordinary care the whole number might have been made up of 
persons specially qualified, accustomed to work either at trades 
or in the fields. Nor were there among the sailors of the men- 
of-war many that could be turned to useful account on shore. 

Again, it had been forgotten that if the convicts were to 
be compelled to work, overseers were indispensable; for 
laziness is ingrained in the criminal class, and more than 
change of sky is needed to bring about any lasting change in 
character and habits. To these retarding causes was soon 
added wide-spread sickness, the result of long confinement on 
ship-board, and an unvarying diet of salt provisions. Scurvy, 
which during the voyage all had escaped, broke out now in 
epidemic form. Indigenous anti-scorbutics there were next to 
none, and the disease grew soon to alarming proportions. 
Many convicts died, and others in great numbers sank under 
an almost entire prostration of life and energy. On the voyage 
out there had been forty deaths ; now within five months of 
disembarkation there had been twenty-eight more, while sixty- 
six were in hospital, and two hundred others were declared by 
the medical officers to be unfit for duty or work of any kind. 


Another difficulty of paramount importance soon stared 
the whole settlement in the face. So far " the king's store " 
found all in food ; but the supply was not inexhaustible, and 
might in the long run, by a concurrence of adverse circum- 
stances, be almost emptied, as indeed happened at no remote 
date. Famine was" therefore both possible and probable, 
unless in the interval the colony were made capable of catering 
for its own needs. To accomplish this most desirable end it 
was necessary to bring ground at once into cultivation, breed 
stock, and raise crops for home consumption. The first farm 
was established at Paramatta, fourteen miles from Sydney, 
and at the same time a detachment under Lieut. King, R.N"., 
of the Sirius, was sent to colonise Norfolk Island, a place 
highly commended by Captain Cook for its genial climate and 
fertile soil. Here, " notwithstanding the various discourage- 
ments arising from droughts, and blighting winds, the depreda- 
tions of birds, rats, grubs, and thieves to which the settlement 
was at first exposed, a large extent of ground was gradually 
cleared and cultivated, and the prospect of raising subsistence 
for a considerable proportion appeared in every respect more 
favourable than at Port Jackson.'' * 

At the Head-Quarter Settlement in these earlier years 
prospects were poor enough. The land being less fertile 
needed more skill, and this was altogether absent. The 
-convicts knew nothing of farming — how could they ? — and 
there was no one to teach them. One or two instructors 
expressly sent out were found quite useless. The only person 
in the colony competent to manage convicts, or give them a 
practical knowledge of agriculture, was the governor's valet, 
and he died in 1791. To add to these troubles a lengthened 
drought afflicted the country during the first year of the settle- 
ment, under which the soil, ungenerous before, grew absolutely 
barren and unproductive. A man less resolute and able than 
Captain Phillip might well have recoiled at the task before 
him. The dangers ahead threatened the very existence of his 
colony. Hostile natives surrounded him, and within the limits 
of his settlement he had to face imminent starvation, and to 
<cope with the innate lawlessness of a population for the most 
* Laing's History of New South Wales. 


part idle, ignorant, and vicious. For it soon became plain tliat 
to look for the growth of a virtuous community, except at 
some remote period, from the strange elements gathered 
together in New South Wales, was but a visionary's dream. 
England's social sewage was not to be shot down in Botany 
Bay, to be deodorised or made pure just because the authorities 
willed it. It was vain to count upon the reformation of these 
people in the present, or to build up hopes of it in the future. 
We have seen how their natural propensities displayed them- 
selves on the voyage out. Directly the convicts were landed, 
these were developed with rapid growth, so that crimes 
and offences of a serious nature were soon extremely rife. 
The day on which the governor's commission was read, he had 
addressed the convicts, exhorting them to behave with 
propriety, promising to reward the good while he punished 
heavily all evil doers. Next morning nine of the people 
absconded. Within a week it was found necessary to try 
three others for thefts, all of whom were flogged. Before the 
month was out four more were arraigned charged with a plot 
to rob the public stores, for which one suffered death, and the 
others were banished from the settlement.* Yet at that time 
there was no possible excuse for such a crime. When goaded 
by hunger and privation in the coming years of scarcity, it 
was at least intelligible that desperate men should be found 
ready to dare all risks to win one plenteous meal, though 
even then each convict shared to the full as well as the governor 
himself.t But in the first year the rations were ample, and 
inherent depravity could alone have tempted these convicts to 
rob the common store. About this time another convict 
offender was pardoned on condition that he became the public 
executioner. Both " cat " and gallows were now kept busy, 
yet without effect. " Exemplary punishments," says Collins, 
"seemed about this period to be growing more necessary: stock 
was often killed, huts and tents broken open, and provisions 
constantly stolen about the latter end of the week ; for among 
the convicts there were many who knew not how to husband 

* Whitlier ? On this point I can find no information, 
t Each man's weekly allowance consisted of 7 lbs. biscuit, 3 lbs. peas, 
and 6 ozs. butter ; 7 lbs. salt beef, or 4 lbs. salt pork. 


their provisions througli the seven days they were intended to 
serve them, but were known to have consumed the whole at 
the end of the third or fourth days. One of this description 
made his week's allowance of flour (8 lbs.) into 18 cakes, which 
he devoured at one meal. He was soon after taken speechless 
and senseless, and died the following day at the hospital, a 
loathsome putrid object." * Here again was felt the want of 
overseers and superintendents of a class superior to that of the 
convicts, through whom discipline and interior economy might 
be maintained and regulated. Naturally those selected felt a 
tenderness for the shortcomings of their fellows, and it was 
more than difficult to detect or bring home offences to the 
guilty. A common crime was absence. Many, undeterred by 
fear of starvation, or savage natives, went off to the woods. 
One remained there nineteen days, returning to the settlement 
at night to lay his hands on food. In some cases the absentees 
were murdered by natives, and their bodies found sometimes 
with their heads pounded to jelly, but always mutilated, speared 
or cut in pieces. There were other crimes quite new, as were 
the punishments meted out to them. One impostor pretended 
to have discovered a gold mine ; but it was proved that he had 
fabricated the gold dust he produced from a guinea and a brass 
buckle, and he was condemned to be flogged and to wear a 
canvas dress decorated with the letter E, '^ to distinguish him 
more particularly from others as a rogue." This same offender 
being afterwards caught housebreaking, he suffered death, but 
not before he had betrayed his accomplices — two women who 
had received the stolen^ property. One of these was also 
executed, while of the other a public example was made. In 
the presence of the assembled convicts the executioner shaved 
her head, and clothed her in a canvas frock, on which were 
painted the capitals R.S.G., " receiver of stolen goods." " This 
was done," says Collins, "with the hope that shame might 
operate, at least with the female part of the prisoners, to the 
prevention of crime ; but a great number of both sexes had 
been too long acquainted with each other in scenes of disgrace 
for this kind of punishment to work much reformation among 
them." Thieving continued on all sides, and the hangman 
* Collins, i. p. 32. 


was always busy. Eepeated depredations brought one man to 
the baiter, while another for stabbing a woman received seven 
hundred lashes. Scarcely any of the convicts could be relied 
upon, yet many, in the scarcity of honest freemen, were 
appointed to posts of responsibility and trust. Generally they 
abused the confidence reposed in them. The case is mentioned 
of one Bryant, a seafaring west-country man, who was employed 
to fish for the settlement. Every encouragement was held out to 
this man to secure his honesty : a hut was built for him and 
his family, and he was allowed to retain for his own use a 
portion of every taking. Nevertheless he was detected in a 
long-continued practice of purloining quantities of fish which 
he sold for his own gain. But he was too useful to be deprived 
of his employment, and he was still retained as official fisher- 
man, only under a stricter supervision. Even this he eluded, 
managing a year or two later to make good his escape from the 
colony, together with his wife, two children, and seven other 
convicts. Having for some time laid by a store of provisions, 
and obtaining from a Dutch ship, in the port of Sydney, a com- 
pass, quadrant, and chart, together with information to help 
him in reaching Timor and Batavia, he stole one of the 
Government boats and made off. Bryant and his two 
convict companions being well trained in the management 
of a boat, and having luck upon their side, reached in due 
course the ports for which they steered. Others were less 
fortunate in their attempts to escape ; like those who tried to 
walk to China northward through the Australian continent. 
Nor did much success wait upon the scheme laid at Norfolk 
Island to overpower their guards, seize the person of the 
governor, and decamp en masse. But though too wild and 
preposterous a plot to raise serious alarm, the very existence 
of this serves to prove the treacherous, untrustworthy cha- 
racter of these felon exiles. Some years later, indeed, in the 
reign of Governor King, an outbreak somewhat similar, but 
planned with secrecy and judgment, came actually to a head, 
and for the moment assumed rather serious proportions. In 
this several hundred convicts combined '' to strike for their 
liberty.^' They had pikes, pistols, and several stands of arms. 
The insurrection broke out suddenly. Two large bodies 


marched upon Paramatta, but were closely followed by an 
•officer, Major Johnson, with forty men of the New South 
Wales Corps, who brought them to an action at Vinegar Hill, 
and in fifteen minutes dispersed them with great loss. 

It is abundantly evident from these and other instances, 
that the convict population could only be ruled by an iron 
hand. But I think Governor Phillip would have forgiven 
them much if they had but been more industrious. Every- 
thing hung upon their labour. The colony must continue 
to be dependent on the mother country for the commonest 
necessaries of life, until by the work of these felon hands 
sufficient food was raised to supply subsistence, and so make 
the colony to be independent of the public stores. Yet " the 
convicts by no means exerted themselves to the utmost ; they 
foolishly conceived that they had no interest in the success of 
their labours.^^ * Task work had been adopted as the most 
■convenient method of employing them ; a certain quantity of 
ground was allotted to be cleared by a certain number of persons 
in a given time. The surplus gained was conceded to them to 
bring in materials and build huts for themselves. But few cared 
to take advantage of the privilege, preferring to be idle, or to 
straggle through the woods, or to visit surreptitiously the 
French war-ships lying in Botany Bay. Indeed, the sum 
total of their efforts was to do just enough to avoid imme- 
diate punishment for idleness. Moreover, as time passed, 
the numbers available for work dwindled down, till at the end 
of the first year, in January, 1789, that is to say, only two 
hundred and fifty were employed in the cultivation of land. 
Many were engaged at the wharves and storehouses, but by 
far the greater portion were utterly incapacitated by age or 
infirmity for field labour of any description. The evil days 
that were in store did not long delay their coming. Through- 
out the latter part of 1789, and the early months of 1790, the 
colony saw itself reduced to terrible straits for want of food. 
Belief was daily expected from England, but daily unaccount- 
ably delayed. Emptier and more empty grew the king's 
store. In the month of February, 1790, there remained 
not more than four months' provisions for all hands, and this 
* Collins. 


at half rations. To prepare for the worst, the allowance 
issued was diminished from time to time, till in April, that 
year, it consisted only of 2 lbs. of pork, 2 lbs, of rice, and 
2j lbs. of flour per head, for seven days. Robberies were 
more than ever prevalent in the general scarcity. Capital 
punishment became more and more frequent, without exer- 
cising any appreciable effect. Garden thefts were the most 
common. As severe floggings of hundreds of lashes were 
ineffectual to check this crime, a new penalty was tried, and 
these garden robbers were chained together in threes, and 
compelled to work thus ironed. ''Any man," said, years and 
years afterwards, one of these first fleet convicts who had 
reached affluence and comfort at last — ''any man would have 
committed murder for a month^s provisions; I would have 
committed three for a weeVs. I was chained seven weeks 
on my back for being out getting greens and wild herbs. ^' 
No doubt in those days of dire privation and famine the 
sufferings of all were grievous ; but the statements of these 
people must be accepted with the utmost caution, even when 
divested of half their horrors. The same old convict told 
Mrs. Chisholm, that he had often dined off pounded grass, or 
made soup out of a native dog. Another old convict declared 
he had seen six men executed for stealing twenty-one pounds 
of flour. " For nine months,^^ says a third, " I was on five 
ounces of flour a day, which when weighed barely came to 
four. .The men were weak,^^ he goes on, " dreadfully weak,, 
for want of food. One man, named ' Gibraltar,^ was hanged 
for stealing a loaf out of the governor's kitchen. He got 
down the chimney, stole the loaf, had a trial, and was hanged 
next day at sunrise.^^ 

Food, food, all for food ! In its imperious needs hunger 
drove the unprincipled to brave every danger, and the foolish 
to excess not less terrible. Collins tells a story of a woman 
who devoured her whole week's allowance in one night, making 
up a strange compound of cabbage and flour, of which she 
ate heartily during the day, " but not being satisfied, she rose 
again in the night and finished the mess," and died. Through- 
out these trying times. Governor Phillip maintained a firm 
front. It is told of him, that seeing a dog run by he ordered 


it to be killed at once — as a mouth that was useless it could 
not in these days be entitled to food. Then, to ease the 
mother settlement, a large number of persons were drafted 
to Norfolk Island, where, thanks to the plentiful supply of 
wild birds, supplies were more plentiful. In transit, H.M.S» 
Sirius — the only ship left in the colony — was wrecked in full 
view of the settlement. 

Eelief came at length, but in driblets. At the time of 
greatest need, more mouths arrived instead of more barrels of 
pork and flour. In February, as I have said, there were but 
four months^ provisions in the stores ; yet on the 3rd of June, 
two hundred and twenty-two women arrived — "a cargo,^^ says 
the chronicler, "unnecessary and unprofitable ; " while H.M.S. 
Guardian, which came as convoy and carried all the stores, 
was lost at sea. 

Another store ship, the Justinian, happily turned up about 
the 20th of June, and later in this month, eleven sail, com- 
posing the " second fleet," came into port. In this second fleet 
the arrangements made were about as good as in slave ships 
from the Guinea Coast. The mortality on the voyage out had 
been absolutely frightful. One thousand six hundred and 
ninety-five male convicts and sixty-eight females were the 
numbers embarked, and of these one hundred and ninety-four 
males and four females had died at sea ; while " such was the 
state of debility in which the survivors landed in the colony, 
that one hundred and sixteen of their number died in the 
Colonial Hospital before the 5th December, 1791."* It 
seemed that the masters of transports were paid head-money 
for each convict embarked — a lump sum of £17 9s. 6d. each. 
The more therefore that died, and the sooner, the less food was 
consumed, and the greater the consequent profit. Even to the 
living, the rations were so much reduced below the allowance 
stipulated for by the governor, that many convicts were 
actually starved to death. In most of the ships very few were 
allowed to be on deck at the same time. Crowded thus 
together continually in a fetid atmosphere below, many 
peculiar diseases were rapidly engendered among them. 
Numbers died in irons ; and " what added to the horror of 
* Laing. 


sucli a circumstance was that tlieir deaths were concealed, for 
the purpose of sharing their allowance of provisions, until 
chance and the offensiveness of a corpse directed the surgeon, 
or some one who had authority in the ship, to the spot where 
it lay." In one of the ships a malignant fever had prevailed 
during the latter part of the voyage, under which the captain, 
with his first and second officers, had succumbed ; while in 
another, the usual plot to take the ship was discovered, and 
had to be checked with severe repressive measures, which 
increased the tribulation of these hapless wretches. Colonel 
Collins gives but a sorry picture of the condition in which 
these ill-fated exiles of the second fleet arrived at New South 

" By noon," he says, " the following day the two hundred 
sick had been landed from the different transports. The west 
side afforded a scene truly distressing and miserable ; upwards 
of thirty tents were pitched in front of the hospital, the 
portable one not yet being put up, all of which, as well as the 
hospital and the adjoining huts, were filled with people, many 
of whom were labouring under the complicated diseases of 
scurvy and dysentery, and others in the last stages of either 
of those terrible disorders, or yielding to the attacks of an 
infectious fever. The appearance of those who did not require 
medical assistance was lean and emaciated. Several of these 
people died in the boats as they were rowing on shore, or 
on the wharf as they were lifted out of the boats; both 
the living and the dead exhibiting more horrid spectacles 
than had ever been witnessed in this country. All this was 
to be attributed to confinement of the worst species, confine- 
ment in a small space and in irons — not put on singly, but 
many of them chained together." * 

The years immediately subsequent to these chronicled 
but a repetition of what had already occurred. The colony 
saw itself again and again brought to the lowest ebb ; when 
in the last stage starvation stared it in the face, there came 
more convicts and more salt meat. All through, the health 
of the inhabitants continued indifferent, in spite of the natural 
salubrity of the climate. This was partly due to the voyage 
* Collins : Account of New South Wales. 


out ; also to tlie diet, insufficient and always salt ; and not 
a little to the gloomy out-look for all concerned in this far-off 
miserable settlement. Yet, through all vicissitudes, the 
governors who in turn assumed the reins bore up bravely, 
and governed with admirable energy and pluck. They were 
.all — at least for the first twenty years — captains of the Royal 
Navy, trained in a rough school, but eminently practical men. 
Their policy was always much the same. They had to bring 
land into cultivation, develop the resources of the colony, coerce 
the ill-conditioned, and lend a helping hand to any that gave 
earnest of a reform in character. 

It will be seen that so far the colony of New South Wales 
consisted entirely of two classes, the convicts and their 
masters. In other words, it was a slave settlement — officials 
on the one hand as taskmasters ; on the other, criminals as 
bondsmen who had forfeited their independence, and were 
bound to labour without wages for the State. The work to 
be done in these early days was essentially of a public 
character. It was for the common good that food should be 
raised, storehouses erected ; the whole body of the population 
benefited too by the hospitals, while the building of barracks 
to house the guardians of order was an advantage to all. But 
such preliminary and pioneer works fairly started, the next 
step towards a healthy and vigorous life for the colony was 
the establishment therein of a respectable middle class — a 
body of virtuous and industrious settlers to stand between 
the supreme power and the serfs it ruled. People of this 
kind were wanted to give strength and stability to the settle- 
ment, to set an example of decorum, and by their enterprising 
industry to assist in the development of the country. But 
they must come from England ; they were not to be looked 
for "among discharged soldiers, shipwrecked seamen, and 
quondam convicts." Governor Phillip at once admitted this, 
and from the first strongly urged the home Government to 
encourage free emigration by every means. The distance 
from England was, however, too great to entice many across 
the seas, and the passages out would have swallowed up half 
the capital of most intending settlers. Several free families 
were therefore sent out in 1796 at the public expense, receiving 


each of tLem a grant of land on arrival and free rations for 
the first ensuing eighteen months. 

But this assisted emigration was carried out in a very 
half-hearted, incomplete fashion, so much so that for a 
long time — till years after the peace of 1815 — "a large 
proportion of the free settlers are described as of a low- 
character, not very superior to that of the convicts."* Their 
numbers were very small, being recruited indeed from the three 
sources above mentioned — the soldiers, the sailors, and the 
convicts themselves. Naturally, as time passed and sentences 
lapsed, the last mentioned supplied a very numerous class. 
Every effort was made to give them a fair start on the new 
road they were expected to follow. They received grants of 
land, varying from ten to sixty acres, with additional slices for 
children or wife. Pigs, too, seed-corn, implements, rations, 
and clothing were served out to each from the king's store ; 
and, thus provided for, straightforward industry would soon 
have earned for them an honest competence. But in compara- 
tively few instances did these convict settlers thrive. They 
formed a body of small proprietors of the worst class, ruining 
their land by bad farming, and making those still convicts far 
worse by the example they set of dissoluteness and dissipation. 

Society now, and for years to come, presented a curious 
spectacle. Its most prominent features were its drunkenness 
and its immorality. The whole community might be classed 
into those who sold spirits and those who drank them. Every- 
thing went in drink. ^^The crops,'' says Collins, ''were no 
sooner gathered in than they were instantly disposed of for 
spirits." Any hope of raising the general tone of society was 
out of the question so long as this unbounded intemperance 
prevailed. Besides this, there was neither marrying nor giving 
in marriage. In Governor Bligh's time two-thirds of the births 
were illegitimate. Bands of robbers, the first bushrangers, 
infested the country, levying black mail, and entering the 
homes of the defenceless settlers in open day, committed the 
most fearful atrocities. 

This general recklessness and immorality was fostered by 
the monopoly of sale possessed by the ofiicers of the New 
* Heatli : Paper on Secondary Punishments. 


Soutli Wales Corps. These gentlemen, who came out in 1792 
as officers of this local regiment, were for very many years 
a thorn in the side of the constituted authorities. Bound 
together by esprit de corps and unity of interests, they were 
constantly at war with the governor, and generally successfal. 
Everything was made subservient to them. They had become 
by degrees engaged in commercial operations, and in time they 
alone had permission to purchase all cargoes of merchandise 
that came into port. These goods they retailed at an enormous 
profit, so that the small farmers were nearly ruined by the 
prices they had to pay for such necessaries as they required. 
'' Hence," as Laing says, '' they (these small farmers) lost all 
hope of bettering their circumstances by honest industry, and 
were led into unbounded dissipation." The figure cut by 
officers who wore the king's uniform in thus descending to 
traffic and peddle is not over dignified. Nor were they always 
over scrupulous in their dealings. As my narrative is con- 
cerned rather with the convict element and the vicissitudes of 
transportation than with the general history of the colony, it 
would be beyond my scope to enlarge upon the well-known 
" rebellion," in which this New South Wales Corps played the 
prominent part. In a few words, this amounted to the forcible 
ejectment from office of the king's representative, Governor 
Bligh, by those who were themselves the guardians of the 
king's peace. It would be tedious to argue here the two sides 
of the question; but, even allowing that both sides were to 
blame, it seems clear that the rebellious troops were most in 
the wrong. Eventually this New South Wales Corps ceased 
to exist as such, and becoming a numbered regiment, the 
102nd of the line, was removed from the colony. 

Meanwhile the convicts continued to pour in. Between 
1795 and 1801, 2833 arrived; from 1801 to 1811, 2398. In 
the years that had elapsed since the first and second fleets, 
attempts had been made to improve the arrangements for 
sending them out. As soon as the hulks at home were full, 
and the convicts began to accumulate, vessels were chartered 
for New South Wales. Each carried 200 with a guard of 30 
soldiers. The men selected for transportation were always 
under fifty, and were taken from those sentenced to " life " 


or fourteen years. When these were found insufficient to 
provide the necessary draft, the numbers were made up from 
the seven years' men, and of these the most unruly wero 
chosen, or those convicted of the most atrocious crimes. The 
females were sent indiscriminately, the only provision 
being that they were under fifty years of age. Lists accom- 
panied them out in all cases. These lists were deficient in all 
useful information — without particulars of crimes, trades, or 
previous characters; points on which information had to be 
obtained from the convicts themselves. The transport ships 
were supposed to be well found in all respects ; clothes, 
medicines, and provisions for the voyage and for nine months 
afterwards were put on board at the public expense. The 
owner supplied a surgeon, and the Admiralty laid down precise 
instructions for his guidance. The master, too, was bound 
over to be careful of his living cargo. On arrival his log- 
book was submitted for inspection, and the Governor of New 
South Wales was empowered to reward him with a special 
gratuity on the one hand, or on the other to mulct and 
prosecute him, according to his behaviour on the voyage out.* 
On arrival at Sydney the convicts were disposed of, either as 
servants to settlers or retained in Government hands. We 
have here the system of assignment,, though still quite in 
embryo as yet. While settlers of any wealth were few there 
was little demand for convict labourers, except as simple 
servants ; though in the case of some of the leading officials, 
who had already considerable grants of land under cultivation, 
as many as forty were, even in these early days, assigned to 
the same master. 

The great mass of the convicts were therefore retained 
by the Government. They were fed, clothed, and lodged 
by Government, and organised in gangs. Each gang was 
under an overseer — an old convict — who was certain to err 
either on the side of culpable leniency towards his charge, 
or of brutal cruelty. Stories are told of an overseer who 
killed three men at the saw- mill in a fortnight from over- 
work. "We used to be taken in large parties," says the 

* See chapter sxi., where these airangements are more fully 


same old hand that I mentioned before, "to raise a tree. 

When the body of the tree was raised, old (the 

overseer) would call some of the men away, then more. The 
men were bent double, they could not bear the weight — 
they fell, and on them the tree, killing one or two on the 
spot. ' Take them away : put them in the ground.^ There 
was no more about it.'^ Another overseer was described as 
"the biggest villain that ever lived. He delighted in tor- 
ment, and used to walk up and down rubbing his hands when 
the blood ran. When he walked out the flogger walked 
behind him. He died a miserable death : maggots ate him 
up. Not a man could be found to bury him." A third 
overseer was sent to bury a man who, though weak and 
almost insensible, was not dead. " For God's sake,'' cried the 
poor wretch, " don't cover me up. I'm not dead." " You 
will be before the night," replied the overseer. " Cover him 
up " (with an oath), " or we shall have to come back again to 
do the work a second time." On the other hand, it was known 
that overseers connived at irregularities of every description. 
The men were allowed to work as little as they pleased; many 
altogether left their parties to rob, and returned at nightfall to 
share their plunder with the overseers. Naturally the work 
accomplished for the public service did not amount to much. 
The hours of labour were from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., after which 
the rest of the day belonged to the convict to be spent in 
amusement or labour profitable to himself. Even in these 
days the punishment of transportation fell most unequally on 
different men. While the commoner classes of offenders were 
consigned to the gangs or drafted off to be the slaves of the 
low-bred settler, persons who had held a higher station in life, 
or who had been transported for what came to be called 
" genteel crimes," forgery, that is to say, embezzlement, and 
the like, were granted tickets- of -leave at once, which exempted 
them from all compulsory labour and allowed them to provide 
for themselves. To them the only hardship entailed on them 
by their crimes was the enforced exile. These were the first 
of a class afterwards styled " specials," or gentlemen convicts, 
who were a fruitful source of annoyance to all Australian 


I have endeavoured to sketch thus briefly the manner in 
which the settlement of this, the first purely penal colony, 
was carried out, and to describe how it prospered in its early 
years. So far we have had to deal only with the difficulties 
encountered by the young colony and the steps taken to 
combat them. It is too soon yet to speak of the consequences 
that were entailed by forming a new settlement thus from the 
dregs of society. I will only state in general terms what was 
the actual state of affairs. A governor at the top of all, with 
full powers nominally, but not nearly autocratic ; next to him, 
as the aristocracy, a band of officials not always obedient, 
sometimes openly insubordinate, consistent only in pushing 
forward their own fortunes. Between these and the general 
body of the colonists a great gulf ; the nearest placed next to 
the aristocracy being the settlers — passing through several 
gradations — from the better class, few in number, to the 
pensioner or convict newly set free ; at the very bottom, the 
slave or serf population — the convicts still in bondage. 

This was the first stage in the colony's existence. With 
the breaking up of the power of the New South Wales Corps 
and the appointment of Governor Macquarie a new era opened.,, 
and to this I shall devote the next chapter. 




The peculiar condition of the colony now was the presence 
therein of a quantity of convict labour, growing larger also 
from day to day as vessels with their cargoes arrived, for which 
there was no natural demand. When General Macquarie 
assumed the government the influx of male convicts had been 
so great in the five years preceding 1809, that the free settlers 
were unable to find employment for more than an eighth of 
the total number, though the labour was to be had for the 
asking, and cost nothing but the price of raising the food the 
convicts consumed. In point of fact, the free settlers were 
still too few and their operations too limited. Seven-eighths 
of the whole supply remaining on hand, it became necessary 
for the governor to devise artificial outlets. He was anxious, 
as he tells Earl Bathurst, "to employ this large surplus of 


men in some useful manner, so tliat their labour might in some 
degree cover tlie expense of their feeding and clothing." The 
measures by which he endeavoured to compass this end I shall 
proceed immediately to describe. 

There is a stage in the youthful life of every colony when 
the possession of an abundant and cheap supply of labour is 
of vital importance to its progress. Settlers in these early 
days are neither numerous enough nor wealthy enough to 
undertake for themselves the works for reclaiming land, 
for establishing harbours and internal communications on 
a scale sufficiently wide to ensure the due development of 
the young country. At such an epoch a plentiful supply of 
convict labour poured in at the cost of the Home Govern- 
ment is certain to be highly valuable. Merivale points out 
how some such timely assistance to British Columbia in 
recent years would have given an enormous impetus to the 
development of those provinces. It would be premature to 
discuss, at this period of my narrative, the question whether 
the advantages gained would outweigh the positive evils of 
a recurrence to transportation on any grand scale. Some 
of these evils might disappear if the system were carried 
out with all the safeguards and precautions that our 
lengthened experience would supply. But the main objec- 
tion — the excessive costliness of the scheme — would remain, 
and it is, I think, extremely doubtful whether the temper of 
the nation is such as to encourage its statesmen to saddle the 
exchequer with an immediate heavy outlay in order that in 
the remote future another jewel might be added to her colonial 

This stage had New South Wales now reached, and the 
governor, finding himself amply supplied with the labour so 
urgently needed, bent all his energies to bringing forward 
the latent resources of the colony. His reign began at a 
period of great scarcity. Eepeated inundations on the 
Hawkesbury had entailed disastrous losses on the whole 
community. He decided, therefore, to form new townships 
at points beyond the reach of the floods, and to open up 
to them and throughout the province those means of commu- 
nication which are so essential to the progress of a new 


countiy. Upon the construction of these roads he concen- 
trated all his energies and all the means at his disposal. Not 
much skilled labour was needed, yet the work was punitive 
and was also beneficial to the whole public. No better 
employment could have been devised for the convicts. Under 
his directions, towns before disconnected were joined by 
means of excellent highways, while other good roads were 
driven through wild regions hitherto unsettled if not 
altogether unexplored. The greatest exploit of that period 
was the construction of the road across the Blue Mountains 
to Bathurst, the whole length of which was 276 miles; and 
there were, besides, good wooden bridges at all necessary 
points. Beyond doubt, to these facilities of intercommuni- 
cation is to be attributed the early advance of the colony in 
wealth and prosperity. 

But Governor Macquarie's other undertakings, though 
well intentioned, were not equally well designed either for 
the improvement of the colony or the amelioration of its 
people. No doubt his was a difficult task, his course hard 
to steer. He had means almost unlimited, a glut of labour, 
and behind him were the open purse-strings of the mother- 
country. How was he to make the most of his advantages ? 
This labour of which his hands were full, came from a mass 
of convicts, each one of whom represented already a consider- 
able charge on the imperial funds. It had been expensive 
to transport him ; now he was costly to keep. Could he not 
be made in some measure to recoup the Treasury for the 
outlay he occasioned? It was obvious that he should, if 
possible, contribute to his own support. Yet Governor 
Macquarie, in spite of his promises, aimed at nothing of the 
kind. His chief object — next after making roads — was to 
embellish the principal towns of the colony with important 
public works — works for the most part unnecessary, and 
hardly in keeping with the status of the young settlement. 
Koads were urgently needed; but not guildhalls, vast hospitals, 
spacious quays, churches, schools, houses and public offices. 
In these earlier years, buildings of more modest dimensions 
might well have sufficed for all needs. But under the 
Macquarie regime Sydney sprang from a mere shanty town 


into a magnificent city. It was almost entirely reconstructed 
on a new plan, the lines of wliicli are retained to this day. 
The convict huts gave place to prisoners' barracks, the mean 
dwellings of the settlers to streets of imposing houses. The 
whole external aspect of Sydney and Paramatta was changed. 
In all the new public buildings numbered more than 250, and 
the list of them fills ten closely printed pages of a parlia- 
mentary report. 

Yet all this expenditure was not only wasteful and at the 
time unnecessary, but its direct tendency was to demoralise 
the population. The labourers required for works of such 
importance were of course collected together upon the scene 
of operations. In other words, crowds of convict artisans 
were congregated in the towns, and countenanced each other 
in vice. Many of the works were carried out by contract, the con- 
tractors employing convict hands, bond or free, still serving or 
emancipated ; and in both cases they paid wages half in cash, and 
half in property, which consisted of groceries and ardent spirits. 
This was the truck system neither more nor less, which the con- 
tractors made still more profitable to themselves by establishing 
public-houses close to their works, at which the cash half of 
the wages soon returned to them in exchange for the drink 
supplied. Naturally vice and immorality grew apace. The 
condition of the towns was awful, and the low pleasures in 
which they abounded attracted to them many people who 
might have otherwise been contented to live quietly upon 
their grants of land. But the choice between congenial 
society and plenty of drink, and the far-off clearing with 
honest labour for its only joy, was soon made in favour of the 
former, and every one who could, flocked into the towns. The 
governor had indeed tried hard to form an agricultural popu- 
lation. With this object he had conceded larger grants than 
his predGcessors, in the hopes that convicts emancipated would 
settle upon them and reform. It was thought that " the hope 
of possessing property, and of improving their condition and 
that of their families, afforded the strongest stimulus to their 
industry, and the best security for their good conduct.'" But 
these advantages were remote, and gave way at once before the 
present certainty of being able to barter away the land they 


got for nothing, in exchange for ten or fifteen gallons of ram. 
If this plan of manufacturing industrious small proprietors out 
of the recently emancipated convicts was meant to answer, the 
grant of land should have been made conditional on actual 
residence thereon, and accompanied by tangible results gained 
by actual labour done, which must be shown before the acres 
were finally conveyed. Now it was proved that many of 
Governor Macquarie's grantees never took possession of their 
land at all : the order for thirty acres was changed at once for 
the much-coveted means of dissipation. Hence, though towns 
grew fast in beauty and importance, the forest lands or wild 
tracts in the interior remained unsettled ; and the crowds of 
ex-criminals which might, by judicious treatment, have turned 
into virtuous bucolics, rapidly degenerated into a mass of 
drunken dissipated idlers. 

These were indeed fine times for the convicts. There was 
labour for all, remunerative, and not too severe ; liquor was 
cheap, and above all the governor was their friend. It would 
be, however, more than unfair to charge General Macquarie 
with any but the best motives in his tenderness for the con- 
vict class. He conceived that the unfortunate people who 
composed it were the especial objects for his solicitude. To 
promote their reform, and to bring them to that prosperity 
which should make this reform something more than mere 
idle profession — these, as he thought, were among the first 
of his duties as the governor of a penal colony. In his 
prosecution of these views he did not halt half-way. The 
manner in which he favoured and encouraged the eman- 
cipists came to be a by-word. It was said in the colony 
that the surest claim on Governor Macquarie's confidence 
and favour was that of having once worn the badge of a 
convicted felon.* Very early in his reign he made it clear that 
his policy would be this. The year after his arrival he 
advanced one ex-convict to the dignity of a justice of the 
peace ; another was made his private medical adviser ; and 
both, with many others, were admitted to his table at Govern- 
ment House. Nor were the recipients of these favours always 
the most deserving among their fellows for the honours 
* Bigge's Report. 


sTiowered upon tliem. It was taken for granted that the pos- 
session of considerable wealth was proof positive of respectability 
regained ; yet in the case of Governor Macquarie's emancipist 
magistrate, it was notorious that he had become rich by 
methods of which honest men would hardly be proud. Trans- 
ported as a lad for rick-burning, after serving his time in the 
colony he had been a shopkeeper, a constable, and last a 
publican; in which line, by means of liberal credit, he had 
soon amassed a fortune. His case was only one of many in 
which ex- convicts had grown rich, chiefly by preying on their 
still more unfortunate comrades, taking mortgages on grants 
as payment for long arrears of accounts for groceries and 
drink, and by-and-by seizing all the land.* 

Then, in many instances, members of the convict class 
were by far the shrewdest and best educated in the whole 
community. Settlers of the better class were few in number, 
so the sharp rogues had it all their own way. They had 
capital moreover. Several brought money with them to the 
colony, the fruit of their villanies, or their wives followed 
them with considerable sums acquired in similar fashion. For 
these men, especially if they had held fairly good positions at 
home, transportation was almost a farce. It merely meant 
removal at the public expense to a land, remote certainly, but 
in which they were little less comfortable than at home, and 
where they had moreover exceptional facilities for making 
money fast, and they had it all to themselves. Governor 
Macquarie discouraged free emigration. He did not want 
to see settlers. He looked upon them as out of place, nay 
more, as a positive encumbrance to the colony. New South 
Wales was a settlement, he said, made by convicts for 
convicts — " meant for their reformation ; and free people had 
no right to come to it." So he continued to pat his favourites 
on the back : gave them land, and more land; as many 
assigned servants — their former partners possibly in many 
a guilty scheme — as they wished ; and last not least, provided a 
market for the very crops he had assisted them (by convict 
labour) to raise. It was not strange then that with a yeai-ly 

* No more emancipists were made magistrates after 1824. Pari, Com.. 
1837 : evidence of Sir F. Forbes. 


influx of thousands of new hands, and the rapid upward 
advance of all who were ordinarily steady and industrious, the 
emancipists should come as a class to gain strength far in 
excess of their deserts, and sufficient from their numbers to 
swamp all other classes in the community. 

There was frequent heartburning in New South Wales 
during the reign of Governor Macquarie on account of his 
overstrained partiality. The discontent was heightened by 
his plainly spoken desire to force his own views down the 
throats of those nearest him in the social scale : not satis- 
fied with openly countenancing them himself, he insisted that 
the officers of regiments should receive them as guests at mess. 
Bigge says on this point : " The influence of the governor's 
example should be limited to those occasions alone when his 
notice of the emancipated convicts cannot give offence to the 
feelings of others, or to persons whose objections to associate 
with them are known. The introduction of them on public 
occasions should, in my opinion, be discontinued. And when 
it is known that they have been so far noticed by the 
Governor of New South Wales as to be admitted to his 
private table and society, the benefit of the governor's example- 
may be expected to operate ; and it will also be exempt from 
the fatal suspicion of any exercise of his authority." * Again,, 
when Mr. Bent, Judge of the Supreme Court, refused to allow 
certain attorneys, ex- convicts but now free, to practise as^ 
solicitors, the governor complained to the Home Government 
that this judge was " interfering unwarrantably with a salutary 
principle which he (the governor) had been endeavouring to 
establish for the reformation of the convicts." Now at this 
very time an Act was in force which deprived all persons 
convicted of perjury or forgery from ever again practising in 
the courts at home, and Judge Bent in refusing to administer 
the oaths to these emancipist attorneys was but carrying out 
the law ; yet on the governor's representation he was removed 
from the bench. 

There were other cases not less plainly marked. As a 
natural consequence, the antagonism was deepened between 
the two classes which were so widely distinct — the virtuous 
* Commission to inquire into the state of ITew South "Wales. 


Pharisees, that is to say, and the thriving publicans. The 
former despised all who had come out "at their country's 
expense ; " and the latter hated the settlers, as people of a 
lower class not seldom hate social superiors to whose " plat- 
form " they are forbidden to hope to rise. Eventually, as we 
shall see, after a long-protracted warfare and varying successes, 
the free population gained the day ; but not till the lapse of 
years had strengthened their numbers out of all proportion to 
their antagonists, and given them the preponderance they at 
first lacked. 

The struggles between the two classes fill up the whole 
of the annals of the next years of the colony. 

All said, however, it cannot be denied that under the 
administration of General Macquarie the colony prospered. 
The population was nearly trebled between 1809 and 1821, 
and there was a corresponding increase in trade and in the 
public revenue. Just before this governor left the colony it 
contained 38,788 souls; there were 102,929 horned cattle, 
290,158 sheep, 33,000 hogs, and 4,500 horses; and 32,267 
acres had been brought under cultivation. The moral tone of 
the community, too, was slightly raised; marriage had been 
encouraged in place of an indifferent and disreputable mode of 
life which till then had been largely prevalent. " In externals, 
at least," says Laing, "the colony itself assumed quite a 
different aspect under his energetic and vigorous management 
from what it had previously worn.^^ 

Speaking of his own administration and his efforts to 
elevate the convict population in the scale of society. Governor 
Macquarie said for himself, as against his detractors, 
"Even my work of charity, as it appeared to me sound 
policy, in endeavouring to restore emancipated and reformed 
convicts to a level with their fellow-subjects — a work which, 
considered in a religious or a political point of view, I 
shall ever value as the most meritorious part of my adminis- 
tration — has not escaped their animadversions.''^ 

And yet, however praiseworthy his efforts, they were 
misdirected; and beyond doubt in his desire to discourage 
the influx of free people he committed a fatal error. It was 
his wish, of course, to further the development of the colony ; 


but lie could not do this half so satisfactorily by the establish- 
ment of penal agricultural settlements, as could substantial 
emigrants working with capital behind them for their own 
profit. Moreover, these agricultural settlements started by 
Governor Macquarie cost a great deal of money. Agaiu, the 
free classes of the community would not have found themselves 
for a long time outnumbered had not immigration been 
systematically discouraged. The formation of an independent 
respectable society, armed with weight and influence, was, as I 
have said, much needed in the colony. In this respect General 
Macquarie had departed from the policy of his predecessors. 
Captain Phillip was eager enough, as we have seen, to 
attract settlers, and had his recommendations been per- 
sistently followed the colony would have found itself the 
sooner able to raise grain enough for its own consumption. 

Sir Thomas Brisbane, on the other hand, who came after 
Governor Macquarie, recognised the full importance of the 
principle, and his reign is memorable as marking the period 
when settlers first flocked in any considerable numbers to 
the colony. But it was no longer the humbler classes who 
came. None of these did the governor want, but persons 
who were well-to-do, who could take up larger grants and 
find plenty of employment for the rapidly increasing convict 
population. Sir Thomas Brisbane held out every inducement 
to attract such persons. At this period, thanks to the 
unceasing arrival of new drafts, the number of felon exiles 
on charge continued to form a serious item in the colonial 
expenditure. To get quit of all or any the governor was 
only too glad to offer almost any terms. The grants of 
land were raised from 500 to 2000 acres, which any one 
of moderate respectability might secure, provided only he 
would promise to employ twenty convicts ; rations also 
were to be given from the king's store for self and servants 
for the first six months, and a loan of cattle from the 
Government herds. The new comers therefore were mostly 
gentlemen farmers, younger sons of land-owners, or com- 
mercial men who had saved something from a general 
crash in business. Most of these people were sufficiently 
alive to their own advantage to realise the advantao^es now 


held out to them. Land for nothing, food and stock till the 
first diflSculties of settlement were overcome — these were baits 
that many were ready enough to swallow. Labour, convict 
labour, was provided also by the same kind hands that gave 
the land. 

For some years this more than parental encouragement 
continued, till at length the influx of settlers came to be 
thoroughly felt. The labour that was so lately a drug, 
was now so eagerly sought that the demand grew greater 
than the supply. The governor was unable to comply 
with all the requisitions for servants made by the land 
grantees. This at once brought about the abandonment of 
the agricultural penal settlements established by General 
Macquarie. Their success had always been doubtful : 
although land to a considerable extent had been cleared, 
timber felled, buildings erected, and farming attempted, no 
great results had ever been obtained. Indeed now, when the 
land which had thus been occupied was again resumed, it was 
found to have been little benefited. One by one they were 
broken up. They were costly and unproductive. On the 
other hand, the settlers, old and newly arrived, were clamorous 
for the hands thus wastefuUy employed. " So steadily," says 
Laing, "did the demand for convict labour increase on the 
part of the free settlers that, during the government of 
Lieutenant- General Darling, there were at one time applica- 
tions for no fewer than 2000 convicts lying unsatisfied in the 
office of the principal superintendent of convicts.^^ 

We have now really arrived at the second stage in the 
history of transportation. Although from the first origin of 
the settlement convict servants were readily provided for any 
master who might ask for them, the applications, as I have 
said, were few and far between, amounting in 1809 to an 
eighth only of the total numbers available, and requiring, as 
late as 1821, to be accompanied by the bait of distinct and 
tangible bribes. But now had dawned the days of " assign- 
ment" proper, the days of wholesale slavery, where private 
persons relieved the State of the charge of its criminals, and 
pretended to act, for the time being, as gaolers, taskmasters,, 
and chaplains, in return for the labour supplied at so cheap a 


rate. How far the persons tlius called upon to exercise such, 
peculiar functions were entitled to the confidence reposed in 
them was never in question till the last few years. Emancipists 
got their convicts too, and of course among the settlers many 
were quite unsuited for so serious a charge. 

The failure of assignment as a method of penal discipline 
will be seen later on, when its great inherent evils had had 
time to display themselves. At first the chief fault was over- 
leniency — so much so that General Darling came out as 
governor charged with orders to subject the convicts to more 
rigorous treatment. Dr. Laing, in his " History of New South 
Wales/^ is of opinion that, about this date, much unnecessary 
severity was noticeable in the carrying out of the sentence of 
transportation. He states that convicts were now treated by the 
subordinate agents, who saw that severity was the order of the 
day, " with a reckless indifference to their feelings as men which 
their situation as criminals could never have warranted.''^ 

Nevertheless it must be confessed that the condition of 
convicts could not be irksome when soldiers envied it, and 
committed crimes on purpose to become felons too. This was 
proved in the case of certain soldiers who had turned thieves 
in Sydney simply that they might be sentenced to transporta- 
tion. They were caught, convicted, and sentenced to seven 
years at Moreton Bay or Norfolk Island. Had their story 
ended here the bare record of it might sufiice, but it so 
happened that very serious consequences ensued, and these I 
cannot refrain from recounting. As it came out quite clearly 
upon their trial what had been the object and design of their 
theft, Governor Darling resolved that they should be treated 
with extra rigour, " it being an intolerable and dangerous idea 
that the situation of a soldier was worse than that of a convict or 
transported felon.^^ The seven years at a penal settlement was 
therefore commuted to seven years' hard labour in chains on the 
roads of the colony. The intention of this change was doubtless 
that their old comrades should sometimes see them as they were 
marched to and fro ; but besides this, it was ordered that at 
the end of their sentence they should return to their regiments. 
Therefore, after the proceedings of the trial had been pro- 
mulgated, the prisoners were publicly stripped of their 


uniforms, iron collars witli spikes projecting were placed 
around their necksj from wliich iron chains hung and were 
fastened to basils on their legs. Thus arrayed they were 
drummed out of their regiment (the 57th) to the tune of th© 
Rogues' March. Under the horrors of this punishment one 
man, Sudds, immediately sank, and died the following day. 
The survivor then made a statement to the effect that Sudds 
complained bitterly of his chains. The projections on the- 
collar prevented the prisoners from stretching at full length 
when lying on their backs. They could not lie at full length 
without contracting their legs, nor could they stand upright. 
The collar was too tight for Sudds' neck, and the basils too 
tight for the other's legs. 

In reporting this whole case to the Secretary of State,. 
Governor Darling says : '' However much the event is to be 
regretted, it cannot be imputed to severity ; none was practised 
or intended. . . . With respect to the chains which are 
designated instruments of torture, it will be sufficient to state 
that they weigh only 13 lbs. 12 ozs. ; and though made with a 
view of producing an effect on those who were to witness the 
ceremony, the extreme lightness of their construction prevented 
them from being injurious in any respect to the individual." 
On the other hand, Laing says the irons usually made for the 
road gangs in the colony did not weigh more than from 6 to- 
9 lbs. ; while those brought out for convicts on board prison 
ships from England weighed only from 3| to 4 lbs. 

Following all this came vituperative attacks in the press. 
Papers inspired by the Government defended General Darling,, 
and the fight was long and bitter. One result Avas the passing 
of several Acts known as " Gagging Acts/' intended to check 
the virulent abuse perpetually aimed at the Government, but 
they failed to have the desired effect. Governor Darling grew 
more and more unpopular, and on leaving the colony he was 
threatened with impeachment. A Parliamentary commission 
did, eventually, inquire into his administration, and completely 
exonerated him from all charges. 

Speaking of the trial and sentence of these soldiers, Laing 
observes : " It would be unjust to consider Sir Ralph Darling's 
sentence by the light of public opinion in England. He was. 


governor of a colony in wliicli more tlian half the community- 
were slaves and criminals ; he had to arrest and punish the 
progress of a dangerous crime ; but he fell into the error of 
exercising by ex -post facto decree, as the representative of the 
sovereign, powers which no sovereign has exercised since the 
time of Henry VIII., and violated one of the cardinal 
principles of the British Constitution by rejudging and 
aggravating the punishment of men who had been already 
judged. At the present day it is only as an historical land- 
mark that attention can be called to this transaction, which 
can never be repeated in British dominions." * It is more 
than probable that, as a military officer of rank, he was doubly 
disposed to reprobate the offence recorded. All his soldierly 
instincts were doubtless hurt to the quick by the notion that 
the private men of an honourable profession preferred an 
ignominious sentence to service with the colours of their 
corps. From this came his uncompromising attitude, and the 
seemingly unjustifiable violence of his measures. 

But except in this one instance. Sir Ralph Darliug proved 
himself an efficient administrator. His sympathies were 
certainly with the " exclusionists " as against the " eman- 
cipists J " and therefore by the latter and their organs he was 
persistently misrepresented and abused. But he was distinctly 
useful in his generation. A most industrious public officer, he 
spared himseK neither time nor trouble. Every matter, how- 
ever unimportant, received his closest personal consideration. 
He may have made mistakes, but never through omission 
or neglect ; besides which, he introduced order and regularity 
in the working of the State machine. Method followed dis- 
organisation ; ease and freedom, where before had been friction 
and clogging interference between its several parts. One of 
his earliest acts had been to regulate the system of granting 
land, which under the previous administration had fallen into 
some confusion. It was he who established a Land Board, 
and who ruled that grants were to be made to people only 
according to their means of improving the acres they got, 
and not as heretofore, simply in answer to mere application. 

In these and other useful labours the lead he gave was- 
* Laing : History of New South Wales, vol. ii. p. 82. 


consistently followed by his immediate successor, Sir Richard 
Bourke, who came to the colony in December, 1831. Although 
by the extension of the colony the personal character of the 
governor was no longer of such paramount importance as in 
earlier days, the arrival of an efficient administrator was a 
distinct benefit to the whole settlement. Sir Richard Bourke 
was unquestionably a man of character and vigour. The 
measures he introduced were all salutary. Not only did he 
encourage free immigration, but he made fresh laws for the 
distribution and coercion of the convict population. His 
regulations for assignment — to which I shall refer directly — 
were wisely planned; and the reforms he introduced in the 
constitution of the courts of justice were as sensible as they 
were necessary. He had found that the decisions of local 
magistrates in the cases of the misconduct of convict 
servants were extremely unequal : some were ludicrously 
lenient, others out of all proportion severe. He thought it 
advisable to establish some uniform system by which magis- 
trates should be guided in the infliction of summary punish- 
ments ; and he passed, therefore, an Act known henceforth as 
the " Fifty Lashes Act." This substituted fifty lashes for the 
first offence cognisable in a summary way, in lieu of one hundred 
and fifty ; and made the powers of a single magistrate somewhat 
less than those of a bench of two or more. At the same it was 
ruled that a " cat " of uniform pattern should be used in 
every district. " Each bench had before superintended, or 
left to its inferior officers, the construction of its own 
scourges, which varied according to accident or caprice; 
nor could it ever be ascertained by the mere number of 
lashes ordered what degree of pain the culprit was likely 
to have suffered.-*' This restriction of their power was not 
palatable to all the magistrates, and petitions were pre- 
sented to His Excellency, protesting against his new Act. 
They urged that now their authority was utterly derided. 
" Such a feeling,'-* says Sir Richard, commenting on their 
petition, " is not to be considered extraordinary, as it requires 
much judgment and moderation to overcome the instinctive 
love of power. . . . The magistrates who felt the diminution 
of their power as a grievance may perhaps have been excited 

tra:n"sportation. 273 

to expressions of complaint by the annoyance to wliich, in their 
character of settlers, they are exposed from the misconduct of 
their assigned servants. They do not perhaps consider that the 
n-atural dislike to compulsory labour, which is part of human 
nature, and has existed and ever will exist under every form 
or mode of government, must offer great difficulties to those 
who seek to carry on their business by such means. Severity 
carried beyond a certain point, especially towards men of 
violent and turbulent feelings, will only tend to inflame this 
indisposition to labour with more dangerous acts of desperation 
and revenge.'' However, to give the petitioners no just cause 
for complaint, he instituted a formal inquiry into " those 
circumstances connected with the discipline of the prison 
population which formed the subject of the petitions." 
Eeports were called for from the police of the several districts. 
From them it was clearly apparent that fifty lashes with the 
new cat were quite enough for any one, provided they were 
properly administered. " The sufficiency of the law and of the 
instrument of corporal punishment, in all cases where proper 
superintendence is exercised, being thus established on unex- 
ceptionable evidence," His Excellency considered it would be 
inexpedient, nay, dangerous, to add to the severity of either, 
" merely because, in some instances, the wholesome vigour of 
the existing law has been impeded by a negligent or corrupt 
execution. In reading the reports which have been presented, 
the governor could not fail to observe that where punishments 
ha-fre been duly inflicted, the power of the magistrates has 
been anything but derided. While perusing these painful 
details. His Excellency has indeed had abundant reason to 
lament that the use of the whip should of necessity form so 
prominent a part of convict discipline in New South Wales ; 
but believing it to be unavoidable, the governor must rely on 
the activity and discretion of the magistracy for ensuring it3 
wholesome and sufficient appHcation.'' 

The clear-sighted policy adopted by Sir Richard Bourke 
in carrying out the last- mentioned reform was no less 
observable in his treatment of the question of assignment. 
The system by which servants were assigned to settlers 
was undoubtedly not altogether free from abuses. It was 



alleged that successive governments worked it quite as a 
source of patronage to themselves. Governor Darling had 
however established an assignment board, which to some 
extent equalised the distribution of the convicts among the- 
settlers. But it remained for Sir Richard Bourke to put 
the whole question on a thoroughly satisfactory footing.- 
The rules he promulgated did not make their appearance till 
he had been four years in the colony ; after he had gained 
experience, that is to say, and time to consider the subject 
in all its practical bearings. Excellent though they were, 
they were rather late in the field. From the date of their 
appearance to that of the final suspension of transporta- 
tion there were but five years to run. The pains taken hy 
Sir Richard Bourke are evident from his despatch to the 
Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated June, 1835. He 
observes : " My chief object in this measure has been to 
substitute for the invidious distinction hitherto more or less 
vested in the officers entrusted with the duty of assigning 
convicts to private service, strict rules of qualification, 
intelligible alike to the dispenser and receiver of penal labour, 
and from which no deviation shall be permitted. It is not 
until after much delay, and after maturely weighing the 
suggestions of the various parties, that I have ventured to 
deal with this important and difficult subject." 

The main principle of the new regulations was that 
servants were to be assigned solely in proportion to the 
land the masters occupied. A carefully prepared scale was 
drawn up fixing this proportion, which, speaking roughly, 
was at the rate of one servant per 160 acres of ordinary land, 
and one per 20 acres under plough or hoe culture. At the 
same time it was ruled that, as all mechanics were more 
valuable than mere labourers, each of the former should 
be equal to two and sometimes three of the latter. Thus one 
blacksmith, bricklayer, carpenter, or cooper, counted as three 
labourers ; while a plasterer, a tailor, shoemaker, or wool- 
sorter, counted only as two. An entirely new process of 
application for these servants was also laid down. A special 
sessions was to be held in every district in September, for the 
purpose of receiving and reporting on all such applications- 


It was tlie duty of tlie magistrates in sessions to " inquire into 
the correctness of the facts stated in each, requiring such 
evidence thereof as to them shall seem proper ; and they shall 
in no case recommend the claim of any applicant unless 
perfectly satisfied of the truth of the statement on which the 
application is founded." 

Over and above this they were also required to look into 
the moral qualifications of the assignee. They were not to 
recommend any person " who is not free, of good character, 
capable of maintaining the servants applied for, and to whose 
care and management they may not be safely entrusted." 
Had this regulation been enforced at an earlier date the system 
of " assignment " might have been worked with greater success. 
The applications having been duly passed at sessions 
were then forwarded to the assignment board at Sydney. 
Throughout, the greatest care was taken to prevent underhand 
dealing : when eventually the time for actual assignment 
arrived, it was done by drawing lots, or rather numbers 
from a box in the oflSce of the assignment board, and 
it was impossible for the ofiicials to show favour or affection 
had they been so inclined. The whole spirit of these 
regulations was thoroughly equitable and straightforward. 
The only object was to be fair to everyone. Thus the 
land qualification was not insisted upon in the case of 
tradesmen who wanted assistance in their own calling; 
and respectable householders were also allowed to obtain 
indoor servants, though without an acre of land in the colony. 
With these rules were included others requiring masters 
to remove their servants without delay, and establishing 
certain pains and penalties against contravention of the new 

These arrangements were indeed admirable, all of them, 
but they should have been earlier enforced. Not that Sir 
Eichard Bourke was to blame for this. The change he 
instituted should have been carried out by his predecessors. 
But he was probably superior as an administrator to most 
who had gone before. At least he was clear-sighted enough 
to perceive that New South Wales had already outgrown 
the conditions of a mere penal settlement. He was of 

T 2 


opinion that convict labour was no longer required, and that 
the abolition o£ transportation would be really a benefit to the 
colonial community. He was perhaps in this ahead of his 
time, but within a year or two of the close of his reign the 
same views began to be widely entertained both at home and 
abroad. In fact the period was now approaching when the 
idea of the possible abandonment of transportation was to 
take a tangible, substantial form. 

SYDNEY IN 1835. 



Tkanspoetation divides itself naturally into three periods. 
The first comprises the early history of the penal colonies; 
the second treats of the days when "assignment" flourished, 
then fell into disrepute; the third saw the substitution of 
the "probation" system, its collapse, and finally the 
abandonment of transportation beyond the seas.f Having 
sketched this early history in the two preceding chapters, I 
propose to draw now a picture of convict life, and the state of 
the colonies generally during the second of these periods. I 

* From a sketch by 0. Martens. 

t Transportation was really continued for some years after the 
collapse of the probation system in Van Diemen's Land, but only to the 
extent of sending a few hundreds annually to Western Australia, 


shall, in tMs, confine myself chiefly to New South Wales, the 
details of management and the results having been much the 
same in Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania as it is now called. 
But I shall refer more especially to that island in a later 

To the voyage out and the internal management of convict 
ships I intend to devote a special chapter. Let us imagine 
that the anchor is dropped in Sydney harbour, and that the 
surgeon superintendent has gone on shore to make his bow to 
His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales and its 
dependencies. There is already plenty of excitement in the 
town. The ship had been signalled in the offing, and there 
are numbers of good people on the look-out for useful hands 
from among its cargo. The days when convict labour was 
a drug in the market are past and gone; the rush for 
"assigned" servants is now so great that requisitions far 
in excess of the number available crowd the office of the 
assignment board. All sorts of tricks have been put in 
practice to get early information as to the qualifications of 
those on board: although the indent bearing the names of 
the new convicts goes first to the governor and thence to 
the assignment officers, cunning old stagers — not a few of 
them themselves emancipists — have found out privately from 
the surgeon or the master of the vessel whether there are upon 
the list any men likely to be useful to them. Thus a watch- 
maker seeks to obtain a watchmaker ; an engraver, an engraver ; 
printers, compositors; merchants want clerks, as doctors do 
assistants, or the genteel folk — " ancients " as they love to 
style themselves — do cooks, butlers, and ladies'-maids. Many 
got convicts assigned to them who were distinctly unfit and 
unworthy of the charge. Cases were indeed known of settlers, 
outwardly honest men, whose only object in asking for 
servants was to get assistants in thieving, cattle stealing, and 
other nefarious transactions. All who lived inland came off 
second best in the general rush : unless they had some friend 
on the spot to watch their interests they had to take their 
chance later on. But these too are in want of skilled labourers : 
one requires a carpenter to complete a new shed or roof to his 
house; another a blacksmith for the farm forge; and all 


^ould be glad of men witli any agricultural training or skill, 
I£ tlie newly-arrived sLip carries female convicts, there is 
similar anxiety. At one time governesses were frequently got 
from among these outcasts ; but the practice of confiding the 
education of innocent children to such teachers appeared so 
monstrous that it was soon altogether discontinued. But 
nursemaids and other household servants were in eager 
request, and it must be confessed that the moral condition 
of the colony was such that many of the better-looking female 
convicts were obtained without disguise for distinctly immoral 

But one and all were compelled to lodge their applications 
for assigned servants with the assignment board, where 
practically the decision rested. This board was governed 
latterly by the clear and explicit rules laid down by Sir 
Eichard Bourke, to which I have referred in the last chapter, 
but before these regulations were framed many malcontents 
among the settlers were ready to declare that assignment 
all depended upon favour and affection. " If you had no 
friend on the board,^' says one, '^you might get a chimney- 
sweep when you wanted a cabinet-maker." In the same way 
complaints were made that the members of this board, and 
other ofiicials in high place, were given as many assigned 
servants as they asked for. Thus the Chief Justice of the 
colony had forty, the Colonial Secretary fifty or sixty, the 
Brigade-Major eight or ten. The principal landowners, too, 
were liberally supplied. One, a salt manufacturer, had sixty 
or seventy; another, with a farm of 40,000 acres, employed 
a couple of hundred servants. Laing declares that the assign- 
ment of useful hands depended often on petty services rendered 
to Government, and that many of the settlers succeeded in 
getting on the weak side of the governor and his advisers. 

But to return to the ship, which meanwhile lay out in the 
stream. No one was allowed to communicate with her, 
except the Colonial Secretary or his assistant. One of these 
officials having gone on board to muster all hands, inspect 
them, and investigate any complaints, as soon as these 
preliminaries were concluded the disembarkation took place 
at the dockyard. Male convicts were at once marched to 


the Hyde Park Barracks, where they paraded for the inspection 
of His Excellency the Governor. Then the assignees, having 
been first informed of the numbers they were to receive, waited 
in person or sent for them, paying on receipt one pound per 
head for bedding and the convict clothes. Assignees failing 
to appear, or to remove the lots assigned to them, forfeited 
the grant. With the women the system was much the same. 
They were first mustered, then they landed, decked out in their 
finest feathers. There was no attempt to enforce a plain 
uniformity of attire ; each woman wore silks and satins if she 
had them, with gay bonnets, bright ribbons, and showy 
parasols. Persons who had applied for female servants were 
present at the dockyard to receive them. After that all who 
remained on Government charge — and their numbers were 
large, for female convicts were not in great demand — passed 
on next to the great central depot or factory at Paramatta. 

As the Hyde Park Barracks and the Paramatta Factory 
were to a certain extent depot prisons for males and females 
respectively, a word about both will not be out of place here. 

Until later years the men's barracks had been very 
negligently supervised. There was no attempt to enforce 
discipline within the walls. The convicts were not even kept 
under lock and key. Half at least were absent as a general 
rule all night, which they spent in prowling about, stealing 
anything they could lay hands upon. The ofiicers at the 
barracks were tampered with, and winked for substantial 
reasons at the nightly evasions of the prisoners in their charge. 
Even in the day-time, and inside the walls, drunkenness was 
very rife, and with it perpetual pilfering from one another, 
and much general misconduct. Naturally in this universal 
slackness of control the lower ofiicials battened and grew rich 
at the public expense. Gross peculation and embezzlement 
were continually practised. The storekeeper was known to 
have abstracted supplies from Government stock ;* and others 
on small salaries were found to have amassed considerable 
fortunes, building themselves fine villas in the best part of the 
town, and living on the fat of the land. Having thus full 
scope for license and depravity, it will be conceded that there 
* Parliamentary Commission of 1837 : evidence of Mr. E. A. Slade. 


"was no attempt at punisliment and restraint in this tlie first 
halting-place of the transport in the land of exile. 

The condition of the Paramatta factory was even more 
disgraceful. The building, "not unlike an English poor-house, 
was large and stood amidst spacious courtyards and gardens. 
The accommodation provided was of the best. There was 
plenty of food and comfortable raiment. The women were not 
confined always within the walls, they had money in plenty, 
and there was little or no work to be done, even by those in 
the lower stages or classes. A few were made to wheel sand 
or gravel for gardening purposes, but the barrows used were 
of light construction, and the women laughed openly and made 
a joke of the labour iuiposed. The administration of the 
establishment was entrusted for years to a matron, whose 
character, to say the least of it, hardly entitled her to so 
responsible a charge. It was alleged that she misappropriated 
the labour of the convicts, keeping back the best prisoners to 
employ them for the benefit of herself and her daughters. It 
was openly said, also, that these daughters were not a bit 
better than they should have been. There was some attempt 
at classification among the female convicts according to conduct 
and character, but the lowest of these classes was filled with 
women who had been returned from service or who were 
sentenced to remain at Paramatta till further orders. This 
was just what they wished. All the women much preferred to 
be at the factory. It was far better, they said, than at service. 
If any servant misbehaved, and was taken by her master 
before a magistrate, she said at once, " Send me back to the 
factory. Send me back.^-" These scenes in court supply 
curious evidence of the condition of affairs. The women 
constantly made use of the most desperate and disgusting 
language. One, after threatening her master, suddenly spat 
in his face. Another, when sentenced to ten days on bread 
and water, was so insolent that the punishment was increased 
to thirty. "Oh! thank you,^' she said coolly; " couldn't you 
make it thirty-one ? '' — knowing perfectly well that thirty 
days was the limit of the magistrate's power. No wonder that, 
with such material to choose from, decent people refused to 
receive convict maid-servants into their families. As a rule 


their characters were so bad, they gave so much annoyance, and 
disturbed to such an extent the peace and quiet of households, 
that the settlers would rather be without their assistance 
altogether. " They make execrable servants," says Mr. Mudie * 
speaking from long experience. In many years he had only 
met one or two who were well-behaved. Some were exceed- 
ingly savage, and thought nothing of doing serious mischief 
to any one. The most flagrant case of this was the assault on 
Captain Waldron, a retired officer and settler. Having reason 
to find fault with a woman for not cleaning his verandah, he 
threatened to send her back to the factory. "If you send 
her, you must send me too,^' cried another woman, coming 
forward directly. High words followed ; after which the two 
women threw themselves without warning on their master, got 
him down, and mauled him so seriously that he died of the 
injuries he received. Other servants, convicts also, were 
within earshot, but not one stirred a finger to help their 

Not a pleasant picture this of the actual consequences of 
female transportation. Perhaps all the women were not 
originally bad, but the voyage out was a terrible ordeal to 
those who had still some faint glimmering left of the distinc- 
tions between right and wrong.f Another observer remarks 
that the character and condition of these women were " as 
bad as it was possible for human beings to be ; they were 
shockingly dissolute and depraved, steeped to the very 
core in profligacy and vice." But I will now leave them 
and return to the men, who formed really the bulk of the 
convict population. 

Let us take first the case of those assigned to settlers in 
the interior. The assignee, as I have said, attended and 
carried off his quota to dispose of them on his station, or 
otherwise, according to his discretion. To get the men 
home — often a long way off — was no easy matter. Some- 
times the convict was given money and told to find his own 
way ; in other cases the master assumed charge, and marched 

* Evidence before Commission of 1837. 

t It is rather a melancholy reflection that many of these women 
had been among Mrs. Fry's most promising pupils. 


in company. Then it happened, either that those left to 
themselves made straight for the nearest public-house, or 
that those under escort gave their masters the slip and 
travelled in the same direction. The next the assignee 
heard of his new servants was a demand made upon him to 
take them " out of pawn.^' Joining with old pals, these new 
chums, fresh from the restraint of the convict ship, had 
soon launched out into drunkenness or worse. As often as 
not the master found them in the lock-up, with half their 
clothing gone, and charged with felony. Having cost money 
already, they now cost more; and the process might be 
repeated over and over again. Nevertheless, sooner or 
later, all or a part of the new labourers reached their 
destination. Here their position was quite that of slaves. 
The Transportation Act gave the governor of the colony 
a property in the services of every convict, and this property 
he made over to the assignee. The authority with which 
the settler became thereupon vested was not exactly absolute, 
but it was more than an ordinary master has over his appren- 
tice. Nevertheless, the Australian master was bound to 
maintain and to protect his convict servant. He could not 
flog him, nor was he supposed to ill-treat him ; besides, the 
law gave the convict the right of appeal and complaint against 
ill-usage. Their maintenance was Hkewise provided for by 
law. The regulation rations consisted weekly of seven 
pounds of fresh meat — beef or mutton — and eight pounds of 
flour, with salt, also soap and other necessaries ; but this 
minimum allowance was often largely increased. The meat 
issue rose to eight or nine pounds; the flour to fourteen 
pounds ; tea and sugar were added, and occasionally rum 
and tobacco. In spite of the danger of supplying such men 
with spirits, rum was openly given — as at time of sheep- 
shearing, and so forth, when it was supposed to be needed 
medicinally. The occasion of a harvest-home was often 
the excuse for a general jollification. Many masters found 
that it was to their interest to feed their convict servants 
well. This was bribing them to do good work, and not a 
few people had more confidence in the efiicacy of such 
treatment than in purely strict and coercive measures. 


Mr. Mudie, one of the settlers examined before tlie Parlia- 
mentary Committee of 1837, confessed to having provided 
one servant with a flute, just to keep him in good humour, 
A good master was anxious to make his servants forget, if 
possible, that they were convicts. Really profitable labour, 
they argued, could only be got out of them by making them 
comfortable. Here at once was a departure from the very 
first principles of penal discipline. It was hardly intended 
that the felons who were transported as a punishment beyond 
the seas should be pampered and made much of, simply to 
put money into the pockets of private individuals. As a 
matter of fact the average actual condition of the convict 
servant, as far as food and lodging were concerned, was far 
superior to that of the honest field labourer at home, and 
under a good master he was much better off than a soldier.* 
He might be under some personal restraint, and there was a 
chance of being flogged if he misbehaved, but he had a great 
many comforts. He was allowed to marry, could never starve, 
and if industrious, in no remote period of time might look 
forward to rise to a position of ease, if not of actual affluence. 

At all the large stations the daily routine of life was some- 
what as follows : The big bell on the farm rang out an hour 
before sunrise, a second bell half an hour later, and a third when 
the sun appeared. It was the night watchman's business to 
ring the bells. At the last summons all hands turned out. 
The mechanics went to their various works, the bullock drivers 
to their carts, the herdsmen to their horned cattle and pigs. 
As a general rule the heaviest labour to be performed was 
kept for the newest comers, so as to break them in. It was 
their business to clear the land, fell timber, and burn it. At 
eight came the breakfast bell, and with it an hour's rest. 
Dinner was at one, after which work was continued until sun- 
set. At 8- or 9 P.M., according to the season, a night bell 
recalled every one, and after that no convict was supposed 
to leave his hut. On the surface, then, no great amount of 
rest appeared to be allowed, except at actual meal times or 
after sundown ; but the whole character of the work performed 
was desultory and far from satisfactory. A convict servant's 
* Ptirl. Com. 1839 : Col. Breton's evidence. 


value was estimated by people of experience at sometliing 
mucli less than that o£ a free labourer ; so mucb so that there 
were settlers who declared they would rather pay wages, as 
they lost rather than saved by this gratuitous labour. The 
convicts worked unwillingly almost always; sometimes they 
executed their tasks as badly as they could, on purpose to 
do injury. What leisure they had was not very profitably 
employed. One convict in twenty might read, and some few 
spent their time in plaiting straw hats for sale ; but the greater 
number preferred to be altogether idle, unless they could get 
a pack of cards — forbidden fruit at every station, and yet 
generally attainable — in which case they were prepared to 
gamble and quarrel all the night through. There was little or 
no supervision over them in their huts. It was quite impos- 
sible to keep them inside. No kind of muster was feasible or 
even safe. The overseers were really afraid to visit much the 
men's huts after dark, fearing to be attacked or openly 
maltreated. It would have been far better if a strong 
stockade with high palisading had been in all cases sub- 
stituted for the huts. The latter were open always, so 
that after the last bell at night, any — and they were not a 
few — who chose crept out and spent the whole of the dark 
hours on the prowl. Of course the convicts were incorrigible 
thieves, and the whole country side was laid under contribu- 
tions by them while thus nightly at large. Sunday was 
another day which gave these idle hands abundant oppor- 
tunities for mischief. Of course there was no regular work 
done on the farm on that day; but there was no attempt, 
either, to enforce religious observances in lieu thereof. The 
want of provision for public worship was at this time largely 
felt throughout the colony, and seldom were churches at hand 
for the convicts to attend, even if such attendance had been 
insisted upon. Some few superintendents of farms took their 
convicts to church, if there was one in the neighbourhood, but 
cases of this were few and far between. Even if there was a 
church, all that could sneaked out of the way on pretence of 
going to bathe, and so escaped the service. 

Thus far I have described only the pleasant side of a 
convict's life up the country. On the whole it was far from 


irksome. Nevertheless, as a set-off against tlie home comforts 
and the comparative idleness, there was the total want of free- 
dom of action, coupled with strictly enforced submissiveness 
of demeanour. A convict was expected to be even cringingly 
subservient in manner. For insolent words, nay looks, as 
betraying an insubordinate and insurgent spirit, he might 
incontinently be scourged. In this way he was subject to the 
capricious temper, not only of his master, but of the whole of 
that master's family. Then the local magistrates had great 
powers. Singly a magistrate could sentence any man to be 
flogged for drunkenness, disobedience, neglect of work, or 
absconding ; with others assembled in petty sessions, they had 
power, however, to inflict heavier punishments for graver 
offences. In "Byrne's Travels" I find mention made of 
several convicts who had received in the aggregate many 
thousand lashes. The same writer asserts that he once had an 
assigned servant upon whom 2275 had been inflicted. This 
man was said to have grown so callous that he was heard to 
declare he would rather suffer a thousand lashes than the 
shortest term of imprisonment. Life could not be very enjoy- 
able to men liable to such treatment. And this code was for 
the convicts and for them alone. Another law applied to the 
masters, in whom, indeed, was vested a tremendous power for 
good or evil. Some, as I have before remarked, were quite 
unfit persons to have the charge of felon servants, being little 
better themselves than convicts, and prepared at any time to 
consort with them and make them their intimate friends. 
Others of the better classes often delegated their authority to 
overseers, being either non-resident on their farms, or not 
caring to exercise personal control. In many cases these 
overseers were ex-convicts, and although it might be con- 
sidered advisable that the master should not make himself too 
cheap, and that a middleman should be employed to come 
into direct communion with the convict himself, still every 
precaution should have been taken to prevent any abuse of 
power. In point of fact every well-ordered establishment 
should have been uniformly under the eye of its resident 

But in reality the lot of the convict in assignment was 


left altogether to diance. According to his luck in masters, 
lie might be very miserable, or as happy as the day was long : 
one master might be lenient, giving good food and exacting 
but little labour in return ; another a perfect fiend. It was 
quite a lottery into which hands the convict fell, for until 
1835 there was little or no inquiry into the character of 
applicants for servants, and except in the most flagrant cases 
requisitions were never refused. 

This, indeed, comprises one of our chief objections to the 
system of assignment. It was altogether too much a matter 
of hap-hazard. No system of penal discipline ought to be 
left thus to chance. But assignment was objectionable in 
other ways; That it should be absolutely fruitless in reforma- 
tory results is not altogether strange, seeing that in every 
other case, even where no pains had been spared to secure 
this, one of the great objects of penal legislation, the failure 
was equally plain. As a punishment, however, for notorious 
offenders it was far too light and easy. There was, as we 
have seen, no supervision and little attempt to enforce hard 
labour or any strigent code of discipline. This neglect 
fostered evil courses, and tended to increase the temptations 
to crime. Nor was the style of labour provided that which 
was always most suited to the persons for whom it was 
intended. In some few cases it was proper enough. Men 
employed as shepherds were perforce compelled to drop into 
regular habits from being obliged to go out and return with 
their herds at fixed hours, and they lived much alone. But 
these were only a small proportion of the whole number, and 
the balance working in association had many opportunities for 
developing evil qualities by this corrupting intercourse. 
Especially was this the case with the mounted herdsmen, who 
were free to gallop about the country, collecting together in 
large numbers at the squatters' huts to drink and gamble and 
plot schemes of depredation. 

These squatters, who about this period (1825-35) sprang 
up in rank growth round about the principal stations, did 
much to give annoyance, and to increase the difficulties of 
the settlers. They were mostly emancipists or ticket-of-leave 
men, who occupied crown pastures without paying for them. 


or spent their energies in stealing horses and cattle. Some- 
times they established themselves at the corners of the 
settlers' own grants of land, getting as near to estates as they 
could without detection. Their principal object in life seemed 
to make themselves useful to the convicts employed near them, 
and for whom they kept " sly grog-shops," where they sold or 
bartered liquor for stolen goods. This ready market for stolen 
property was a source of great loss to the settlers. One 
calculated that it cost him £200 or £300 a-year. Pigs, sheep, 
harness in bags, flour on its way to market — all these were 
purloined in large quantities, and passed at once to" the 
receivers, who gave rum in exchange, and sometimes tea, 
sugar, and tobacco. The squatters were fined if caught at 
these illicit practices, but to recover money from them was 
like getting blood out of a stone. Another favourite modus 
operandi was to knock up a sort of shanty close by some 
halting-place on the main line of road, where there was water 
handy and the drays could be made snug for the night. The 
draymen naturally flocked to the grog-shop, and naturally 
also obtained the sinews of war by making free with their 
masters' property. 

In the foregoing pages I have dwelt chiefly on assignment 
to the country districts. But every convict did not of course 
go to the interior. Many were assigned in the towns. Now, 
whatever evils may have surrounded the system as carried 
out inland, the practice of town assignment was infinitely 
worse in every respect. In the first place, it led to the 
congregation of large numbers in places where there were 
many more temptations to profligacy and crime. And just 
as these were increased, so were the supervision and control 
that would check them diminished till they sank to almost 
nothing at all. Country convicts, as we have seen, were 
not much hampered by rules ; but those in towns were free 
to do just as they pleased. It was impossible for the 
masters to enforce any regulations. In the hours of work, 
such as they were, the convicts might perhaps be kept out of 
harm^s way more or less, according to the character and style 
of their employment ; but labour over, they had great license 
and were practically free men. Household servants were 


as well off as servants at home in England ; they frequented 
theatres and places of amusement, and the badge of their 
disgrace was kept altogether in the background. Masters 
were not compelled by law to enforce any particular discipline ; 
nor would the most strict among them dare to exercise 
much surveillance over their servants. Such conduct 
would have been rare and singular, and it would have 
drawn down upon them the animosity, or worse, of the 
whole convict class. Such was the state of affairs that this 
body really possessed some power, and could not openly be 
affronted. Convicts were required in the towns, as in the 
country, to be within doors by 8 p.m.; but unhappily this 
rule was quite a dead letter. The Sydney police was 
miserably inefficient. Recruited from the convict ranks, 
they were known on all occasions to favour openly their old 
associates. If they gave information they were called 
" noses," which they disliked ; or worse, they were hooted, 
sometimes attacked and half killed. They were known, 
too, to take bribes, and to be generally most neglectful of 
their duties. It was not to be expected, therefore, that from 
them would come any zealous supervision of the convicts 
still in assignment, even to the extent of sending all such to 
their homes after 8 p.m., or of preventing the commission of 
petty offences. But as a matter of fact, the police were never 
certain whether half the men they met were convicts in 
assigned service or people actually free. Sydney was by 
this time so large, and the convicts so numerous, that it was 
next to impossible for a constable to know every one he 
met, by sight. None of the assigned servants in towns wore 
any distinctive dress. Those in Government hands wore gray, 
and the chain-gangs a parti-coloured suit of yellow and brown 
cloth, but the assigned servants appeared in their masters* 
liveries, or clothed just as it pleased them. Eecognition was 
not likely to be easy or frequent. Even in our day 
in England, with admirable police machinery, the thorough 
supervision of criminals at large is not always obtained. 
In Sydney, forty years ago, it was lamentably below the 
mark. Often enough men who had arrived in recent ships, 
having been assigned in due course, were soon lost sight 



of, to reappear presently under anotter name, as men 
quite free. They had proved themselves so useful that 
their masters wished to give them sole charge of a business, 
which, if still convicts, they could not assume. In this 
way it was discovered that an assigned convict servant had 
charge of a tan-yard close under the eyes of the police, but 
here it was proved that the police had connived at a grave 
neglect of duty. 

It followed, too, from the nature of their previous avoca- 
tions, that the convicts assigned in towns were the sharpest 
and most intelligent of their class. They were therefore the 
more prone to dissipation, and the more difficult to restrain 
within bounds. Knowing their value, they presumed on it, 
and felt that they were too useful to be sent off as rough 
farm hands into the interior. Here was another blot in the 
system of assignment, and generally on the whole principle 
of transportation. The punishment fell quite unequally on 
offenders. The biggest villains and the most hardened 
offenders fell naturally into the lightest " billets ; " while 
the half-educated country bumpkin, whose crime may have 
been caused by ignorance or neglect, was made a hewer of 
wood and drawer of water. Prominent among the first 
category were the " specials,^' or gentlemen convicts, as they 
were styled ; men sentenced for " genteel " crimes, forgery only, 
or embezzlement, but whose delicate fingers had never 
handled the cracksman's jemmy, or tampered with fogle or 
wipe. These genteel criminals were for ever, through all 
the days of transportation, a thorn in the side of the 
administration, and they were always treated with far more 
consideration than they deserved. Some of these were well- 
known men, like one who had been a captain in the royal 
navy, and whose proclivities were so ineradicable that he 
suffered a second sentence at Norfolk Island for forgery, 
his favourite crime. From among this class the lawyers 
selected their clerks, and the auctioneers their assistants. 
If unusually well-educated they became teachers in schools, 
and were admitted as such even into the public seminaries 
of Sydney. A flagrant instance of the consequences of this 
injudicious practice is quoted by Laing — a clergyman's son. 


who had a convict tutor, coming himself under the influence 
of such a man^s teaching, to be also a convict sentenced to 
transportation for life. 

There was another very improper proceeding which for 
a long time held among the convicts of this superior or more 
wealthy class : their wives followed them out to the antipodes, 
bringing with them often the bulk of their ill-gotten gains. 
Having thus ample funds, they established themselves well 
on arrival, and applied for a grant of convicts like the rest 
of their neighbours. Naturally they took care to secure that 
their own husbands should be among the number. There 
was one man who had received a very heavy sentence for a 
robbery on a custom house, who should have gone direct to 
Norfolk Island. Through some bribery he was landed at 
Sydney, and was made overseer at once of a gang working 
in the street. Within a day or two he absconded. His wife 
had joined him with the proceeds of the robbery, and they 
went off together. Mr. Macarthur* gives another case of a 
farrier who was assigned to him. This convict's wife followed 
him, and asked permission to live with him on Mr. Macarthur's 
farm. "When this was refused the man managed to get 
returned to Sydney, and was there reassigned to his wife. 
To something of this kind some of the largest shops in 
Sydney owed their origin. 

Among the many lighter and more remunerative kinds of 
employment into which the convict of the special class 
readily fell, was employment on the public press. As time 
passed there had grown up a strong antagonism between 
bond and free, and both sides had their newspapers. The 
organs which were emancipist in tone were not of the 
highest class, but they were often conducted with consider- 
able ability. Their staff was of course recruited from the 
convict ships as they arrived, where compositors, leader 
writers, and even sub-editors were occasionally to be found. 
The most notorious instance of this description was the case 
of W., who was originally assigned as a servant to the pro- 
prietor of the Sydney Gazette. This paper, which was then 
only published three times a week, was an able and influential 
* Evidence before Committee of 1837. 

u 2 


journal, and its editor and owner was a certain O'S., wlio had 
himself been assigned to a former proprietor, and by him 
employed as a reporter. To him came W., and these two, 
according to Dr. Laing,* bent all their energies to compass 
'^the abolition of all the moral distinctions that the law of 
God has established in society ; to persuade the public that the 
free emigrant was no better than the convict, that the whole 
community was equally corrupt, and those of the convict 
class were no worse than the best in the colony, their situation 
being the result of misfortune, as they pretended, and not of 

W. was a Scotchman, who had been outlawed for some 
misdemeanour in the office of a solicitor by whom he had been 
employed in Edinburgh ; he then came to London, and was 
taken into a large mercantile house, Morrison's ; from which, 
for embezzlement, he was transported for fourteen years. He 
came out in Governor Darling's time, and was sent to 
Wellington Valley, then a penal settlement for educated 
convicts. He stayed there but a short time, thanks to his 
interest with the superintendent, and returning to Sydney 
obtained a ticket-of-leave, being afterwards employed as a 
clerk in the corporation office, under the archdeacon of the 
colony. On the dissolution of the corporation he was no 
longer required there, but he found great demand for his 
services from editors of newspapers, having two sub-editorships 
offered to him at the same time. He went to the Sydney 
Gazette, and thenceforward had it under his entire control, the 
ostensible editor being a person of dissipated habits, who let 
him do as he pleased. This W. was a man of considerable 
talent. From that time forth he proved a source of prodigious 
demoralisation from the sentiments he disseminated, and the 
use he made of the powerful engine he had under his control, 
in endeavouring to exasperate the prison part of the population 
against the free emigrants. He was tried at length on a 
charge of having bribed a compositor to steal a printed slip 
from another newspaper office in the colony. The printed 
slip was a proof of a letter that had been sent for publication tO' 
the editor of the paper, and which contained libellous matter, 
* History of New Soutli Wales. 


reflecting on the character of a certain emancipist. The letter 
was not very carefully examined by the editor until it had 
been set up in type, but on discovering the nature of its 
contents he considered that he ought not to publish it. Though 
actually printed, it never appeared in the paper. W. came to 
know that such a paper was in type, and he bribed a convict 
compositor in the office to which the letter had been sent to 
purloin a copy, or one of the proofs of the letter. He then 
sent the letter in an envelope through the post to the 
person libelled, in order that there might be proof of its 
publication. The person to whom the letter referred there- 
upon brought an action against the editor of the paper to 
which it had been sent, and endeavoured to establish the 
fact of publication from the circumstance of his having 
received the letter through the public post ; but the action 
failed. On inquiry, W.^s complicity in the matter was dis- 
covered, and he was tried for being a party to the theft. 
Of this he was acquitted, as the property found was not of 
value sufficient to constitute grand larceny; but the judge 
considered that he should not be allowed to remain at Sydney, 
and the governor sent him to Port Macquarie, a station for 
gentlemen convicts. Though now two hundred and fifty 
miles from Sydney, he still continued to contribute articles to 
the Sydney Gazette ; and soon afterwards the widow of the 
late proprietor of the paper, into whose good graces he had 
insinuated himself, went down to Port Macquarie and married 
him. Soon after this he got into trouble by stirring up a feud 
between the harbour master and a police magistrate. In the 
investigation which followed, both these officials were tiis- 
missed, and W.'s ticket-of-leave was cancelled. He was 
sentenced to be again classed with the convicts in Govern- 
ment hands, and on hearing this he absconded. Nothing 
more was heard of him. 

I think it will be evident from what I have said that the 
actual condition of men who were in assigned service was 
not very disagreeable if they were skilful hands and useful 
to their masters. This much established, they found their 
lives were cast in pleasant places. They did not want for 
money : they were allowed openly a portion of their earnings, 


and these gains were often largely increased by illegal methods^ 
Besides this, many masters gave their servants funds to pro- 
vide for themselves. They went so far even as to allow their 
men to marry — saddling themselves with the responsibility of 
having perhaps to keep both convict and his family. These 
convict marriages, when permitted, took place generally in 
the convict class, though cases were known of free women who 
had married assigned servants, and vice versa. Among the 
latter, Byrne, in his "Travels,^^ speaks of a certain old lady,, 
the mother of very respectable people, who had married when 
a convict, and who did not, to the day of her death, quite 
abandon the habits of her former condition. Her husband 
had been an ofl&cer of high rank, and her sons rose to wealth 
and prosperity in the colony ; but no considerations for the 
feelings of those belonging to her were sufficient to wean her 
from her evil propensities. She was so passionately addicted 
to drink, that it was in vain her children sought to keep her 
with them : she always escaped, taking with her all on which 
she could lay hands, and returned to her favourite associates — 
the brickmakers in the suburbs of Sydney. 

But such marriages as these were the exception. As a 
general rule the assigned servant, whether in town or country^ 
paid a visit to Paramatta factory, and made his case known ta 
the matron by whom it was governed. ^' Turn out the women 
of such and such a class,^^ cries forthwith Mrs. G., and the- 
marriageable ladies come trooping down, to be ranked up in a 
row like soldiers, or like cattle at a fair. Benedict walks down 
and inspects, then throws his handkerchief, and if the bride 
be \Villing, the two retire to a corner to talk a little together. If 
the conversation is not quite satisfactory to " Smith, AboiiTcir,"' 
or Jones, Lady Dacre,"^ he makes a second selection ; and so 
on, perhaps, with three or four. Cases were known of fas- 
tidious men who had run through several hundreds, and had 
declared in the end that there was not a single woman to suit.. 
Others were less particular. Men up country have been 
known to leave the choice to their masters, when the latter 

* Convicts in Australia were always known by their name and the- 
name of tlie ship in which, they had come out. 


next pay a visit to Sydney. There was of course no security 
against bigamy : often botli parties to the colonial marriage 
had wife or husband alive at home, and just as inevitably the 
conduct of these factory brides was most questionable after 
the new knot was tied. 



















In the latter part of the preceding chapter I have dealt 
with convicts in assignment. These of course did not com- 
prise the whole numbers in the colony. Putting on one 
side the ticket-of- leave men — who were still really convicts, 
though for the moment and during good behaviour masters 
of themselves — and not including emancipists, who though, 
to all intents and purposes, men free as air, still carried a 
class-brand which generations only could efface — there wore, 
in addition to the servants assigned to private individuals, a 
large body of convicts retained in the hands of the Govern- 
ment of the colony. A certain proportion of these were men 
so chosen on arrival from fulfilling certain needs, and there- 
fore kept back from ordinary assignment because the Govern- 
ment officials, so to speak, assigned them to themselves. 


There were public works to be carried out, and the Government 
was clearly as much entitled to share in the supply of convict 
labour as the settler. It was said that the condition of these 
convicts in Government employ was always worse than those 
in private hands. About one-fourth of the whole available 
number were thus appropriated for the colonial works. But 
over and above these, the Government held also the whole 
of the refuse convictdom in the colonies. Every man who did 
not get on with his master; every man who committed 
himself, and was sentenced to undergo any correction greater 
than flogging or less than capital punishment, came back 
to Government, and was by it disposed of in one of three 

These three outlets were: (1) The road parties; (2) The 
chain-gangs ; and (3) The penal settlements. 

1. The road parties were employed either in Sydney itself 
and other towns, or along the many miles of roads wherever 
their services were required. Those at Sydney were lodged 
in the Hyde Park Barracks, whence they issued forth daily 
to their work, under the charge of overseers, at the rate of 
one to every thirty men. These overseers were themselves 
convicts ; chosen for the post as being active, intelligent, 
and perhaps outwardly more respectable than their fellows. 
Naturally the control of such overseers was not very vigilant. 
They were paid no wages, and had no remuneration but certain 
increased indulgences, such as an allowance of tobacco and 
other minor luxuries. Hence they connived at the absence 
of any men who were disposed to forage in the town and 
run the risk of capture. If caught thieving or absent the 
culprits were to take the consequences ; but if all went well, 
they shared whatever they met with during the day with 
their complaisant overseer. Parties in the country were under 
similar management, but they were dispersed over such a 
very wide area that efficient supervision was even more 
difficult. The Surveyor- General of the colony was the respon- 
sible head of the whole department ; but under him the parties 
were actually worked by overseers and their deputies, both of 
whom were either convicts or ticket-of-leave men. These 
officials also connived at the absence of their men on all sorts 


of false pretences. The convicts were free to come and go 
almost as they pleased. Their dwellings were simple huts of 
bark, which presented no obstacles to egress after hours at 
night. In the day time they were equally unrestrained. They 
did odd jobs, if they pleased, for the neighbouring settlers* 
Any artisan might earn money as blacksmith, carpenter, or 
cooper. Many others were engaged in the straw hat trade, a 
very favourite occupation for all the convicts. Great numbers, 
less industriously disposed, spent their time in stealing. A 
large proportion of the robberies which were so prevalent in 
the colony were to be traced to the men of these parties on the 
roads. They were highwaymen, neither more nor less; and 
every settler far and near suffered from their depredations. 
Sometimes they went off in gangs, and encamping by the 
side of the road laid every passing team under contribution. 
Increased facilities were given for the commission of these 
crimes through the carelessness of the settlers themselves, 
when they were permitted to employ men from the road parties 
on Sundays or during leisure hours. Wages in cash were 
paid in return, and the door was thus open to drunkenness 
and the evils that follow in its train. Worse than this, at 
harvest time, when the road parties were eagerly drawn upon 
for the additional hands so urgently required, the settlers were 
in the habit of giving the men they had thus employed passes 
to rejoin the stations from which they had come. Of course 
the convicts did not hurry home, and of course also they did 
no little mischief en route while thus at large. 

The work that was done by these parties was certainly 
irksome in character. Breaking stones under a broiling sun 
is not an agreeable pastime. But the amount of labour 
performed was ludicrously small, and was described by an 
eyewitness as a disgrace to those in charge.f On the whole, 
therefore, the convicts of this class had no great cause of 
complaint. They had plenty of congenial society, even out- 
side their own gangs, for they were not prevented from 

* Under Sir Eichard Bourke's assignment rules, however, which 
were promulgated in 1835, any settler who gave employment to convicts 
from the road parties thereupon forfeited all his assigned servants. 

t ]\Irs. Meredith. 


associating with tlie assigned servants around ; tlieir food was 
ample; and thej had abundant opportunities for self- 
aggrandisement in the manner most agreeable to themselves. 
It was not strange, then, that idle, worthless servants in 
assignment greatly preferred the parties on the road. 

Nevertheless, there were not wanting among the free 
residents intelligent persons who saw how the labour of 
these road parties might have been made really productive 
of great benefit to the colony. There was still plenty of work 
to be done in developing colonial resources : over and above 
the construction and repair of roads, they could have been 
usefully employed in the clearance of township lands, the 
widening and deepening of river beds, in quarrying, fortifying, 
and building piers. But to have accomplished these results, 
a system more complete than any that was even dreamt of 
then must have been indispensable. Success only could have 
come from regular effective supervision by a thoroughly 
reliable staff, and by carefully constructed prison accommoda- 
tion, such as was provided later in carrying out public works 
by convict labour in Western Australia. 

2. In the chain-gangs there actually was greater restraint 
and some semblance of rigorous discipline. The convicts were 
relegated to this system of punishment as a general rule for 
colonial crimes, though at times new arrivals from England of 
a desperate character were also drafted into them at once. In 
these gangs the convicts were kept in close custody, and con- 
demned to work which was really hard. There were some few 
chain-gangs in Sydney employed at the magazines on the island 
and in improving the streets ; * but as a general rule they were 
to be found chiefly at out stations, or in the interior. They 
were guarded always by a detachment of troops, and when 
most efficiently organised were governed by a military officer, 
who was also a magistrate. Under him there was also 
a superintendent in charge of each stockade or barrack, with 
a staff of constables in the proportion of one to seventy-five 
convicts. The duties of the constables were analogous to 
those of warders in permanent prisons at home. The stock- 
ades were substantial buildings, in appearance somewhat 
* They lived on board a hulk. 


similar to American log-liuts, but of greater strength, suffi- 
cient to preclude all possibility of escape. These stockades 
accommodated each one hundred or more men. They were 
of simple construction : the walls formed of timber, split 
into strong slabs, which rested in grooves at top and bottom ; 
the roof was of timber also, covered in with bark. In most 
cases the materials were found close to the spot, timber 
being everywhere plentiful ; but it was possible to takedown 
the stockade and remove the pieces to another ^locality if 
required. The prisoners were not badly fed — with flour, 
maize meal, and beef. Their clothing was two suits a year. 
They had medical attendance, and regular Divine worship. 
Their beds were of plank, but there was no lack of bedding. 
The great hardships were the unremitting labour — not less 
than ten hours daily, and the chains — leg-irons weighing six 
or seven pounds, which were never for a moment removed. 
So important were these irons considered, that it was the 
stockade superintendent's business to examine closely every 
prisoner's chains daily before the stockade was emptied for 
labour. In this way chiefly escapes were prevented, as the 
convict carrying with him several pounds of metal, found 
himself rather too heavily handicapped to run. One 
other unpleasant feature at the stockade was the official 
" scourger,'' as he was called — a convict specially appointed 
to execute corporal punishment. He was not himself an 
" iron-gang " man, but came from assigned service together 
with the convicts' cooks and wardsmen required for the interior 
economy of the stockade. What with work unremitting, 
weighty chains that were never removed, isolation from the 
dissipation of the towns, the convict in the iron -gang was 
on no bed of roses. Nor could he, under the later regime, 
escape easily as he had done heretofore. Sentries with 
loaded muskets guarded every exit, and they gave him only 
one chance to halfc when summoned, before they fired. After 
two years' trial Sir Richard Bourke reported that his new 
system was eminently successful. By its assistance he 
was at length enabled to dispense altogether with the road 
parties without irons, which I have already described as 
being so fruitful of evil to the community at large. Another 


evil to wbicli I have not referred, and which was attributable 
to the slackness of control over these road parties and 
chain-gangs, was the existence of a class of desperadoes 
sufficiently well known to every reader — I mean the notorious 
" bushrangers " of the Australian colonies. Certain numbers 
of these were recruited from among the assigned servants, 
who absconded when they and their masters could not 
agree, but by far the greater proportion was furnished 
by the Government gangs, escapes from which were for a 
long time frequent and generally successful. Whenever a 
man of courage and ability got clear away, he soon collected 
around him a band of brigands like himself ; and then, for 
periods varying in length according to the nature of the 
pursuit, these villains subjected the whole neighbourhood to 
their depredations. They attacked chiefly the outlying huts 
and houses, but seldom large establishments. One case 
was known where some sixty men of a chain-gang had 
plotted to break out simultaneously and make for the 
bush. Thence they were to march on Macarthur^s station, 
bent on pillage. Nothing came of this plot, because pre- 
cautions were taken to meet it. But at other times bloody 
affrays were common enough between the bushrangers and the 
mounted police. Indeed, it was well known that unless a 
gang of these highwaymen was entirely exterminated there 
was no peace for the district in which they were at large. If 
one survivor escaped he soon became the nucleus of a new 
gang. What between attacks on dwelling-houses, and the 
daily stoppage on the highways of carts and waggons, the 
country generally was most insecure. People went about in 
fear of their lives. 

3. The penal settlements, which were the ultimate penal 
stronghold of the penal colonies, contained, as a matter of 
course, the whole of the dregs of convictdom. These settle- 
ments were the superlative degree of infamy. The convicts in 
the road parties and chain-gangs were bad enough. Heaven 
knows, but they were angels compared to those in the penal 
settlements. Offenders were not indeed transferred to these 
terrible receptacles till all other treatment had failed. When 
there, "it seemed,^' to quote Judge Burton's words, ''that the 


heart of a man was taken from Lim, and that he was given 
the heart of a beast." It will not beseem me to go fully into 
all the details of these cesspools of iniquity, but I shall have to 
refer at some length further on to Norfolk Island, the worst 
of them all. The settlements used as penal by- New South 
Wales were Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island ; that by Van 
Diemen's Land was Tasman's Peninsula. This place was cut 
off altogether from the settled districts, having only one com- 
munication — at Forestiers Peninsula — with the main island. 
On this neck of land, between Pirates' Bay and Norfolk Bay, 
stood an officer's guard ; and besides his sentries, a chain of 
fierce dogs kept watch and ward from shore to shore. These 
dogs had been trained to give tongue at the slightest noise 
day or night. So successful was the guard they kept, that 
only two prisoners ever escaped from Port Arthur. One was 
recaptured, the other died in the woods. This station on 
Tasman's Peninsula had the great advantage that it was not, 
like Norfolk Island, distant several days' sail. Being but six 
hours from headquarters at Hobart, it was brought directly 
under the supervision of the governor and other officials. 

I have now described the condition and style of life of all 
convicts, still such ; of all, I mean, who were not yet nominally 
or actually free. The whole of these were comprised in the 
numbers at assigned service, in the road parties, chain-gangs, 
or penal settlements. 

Next above them, on a sort of debatable land, free for the 
time being, but liable to degradation anew, stood the convict 
on ticket-of-leave. This expression and the practice to which 
it applies have been adopted into our home legislation and 
language, but the term itself was a colonial invention. The 
first tickets were granted by Governor Phillip with the 
intention of instituting some stage intermediate between 
complete freedom and actual restraint. As time passed new 
orders varied the details; but the meaning of the term 
remained practically the same. The holder of a ticket-of-leave 
was a convicted felon, who had permission to be at large before 
the whole term of his sentence had actually expired. 

At the top of the convict ladder were the emancipists, 
whose term of transportation was at an end, who were 


free to return to the land from wiience they came, and 
begin life afresh, but who were never actually whitewashed in 
the colonies, or permitted to rise in the social scale to an 
equality with the free settler who had never broken the laws. 
We have seen how successive governors sought to bring the 
emancipists forward, and the heartburnings it occasioned. 
Their efforts were doubtless supported by the wealth and 
importance of many of the emancipist class ; but it was on 
this account that the antagonism exhibited by the free popula- 
tion was the more unvarying and bitter. Many of the respect- 
able inhabitants had been outstripped in the race for fortune 
by men who had arrived in the colony bearing the felon's 
brand ; and the free settlers felt that in fighting against the 
pretensions of these ex-convicts they were fighting for very 
life. The position of the latter was so strong, that with 
the slightest success they would have swamped the former 
altogether. No doubt the injudicious tone of the emancipist 
press, and the flagrant conduct of many of the principal eman*- 
cipists, drove the free settlers into opposition more strenuous 
than was absolutely required. A man who had been a convict 
was not necessarily to be taken by the hand and made much of 
from pure sentimental philanthropy. But neither, on the other 
hand, should he have been kept perpetually at a distance, and 
treated as a native of the Southern States would at one time 
have treated any one of black blood or complexion. It was 
because the emancipists formed a body so powerful that their 
opponents were more or less afraid of them, and stood really 
at bay, fighting with their backs to the wall. Not a little of 
this bitter hostility has survived to the present day. Even now, 
in the towns where transportation took effect, the convict 
element stands in a class apart ; there are caste distinctions 
stronger than any in the mother country, of which the barriers 
are rarely, if ever, overpassed. 

But beyond question, many of the emancipists throve. 
The pictures drawn of their wealth and prosperity may be a 
little exaggerated, but in their main outlines they were un- 
doubtedly true. There was one who had made a fortune 
worth five-and-forty thousand a year. Several others had 
incomes of £20,000. One or two of the largest shops in 


Sydney were owned by them. They had public-houses, and 
farms, and ships, and newspapers, and all the outward signs o£ 
material wealth. They spared no pains or cost to get gorgeous 
furniture and costly plate. They had grand carriages and good 
horses, and were fond of lavish and ostentatious expenditure. 
But with all this, low taste prevailed. No one bought pictures 
or works of art : the only literature they valued was the 
"Newgate Calendar,^^ and they preferred a prize-fight any 
day to an opera or a decent play. It was said, indeed, that 
the principal wealth of the colony was for a long time held in 
the hands of these emancipists. Honest people less successful 
in the race for money declared that these others made fortunes 
because they were quite unscrupulous. No doubt the accusa- 
tion held. One case was proved in which a certain shop under- 
sold all others, simply because its owner, an ex-convict, was a 
receiver of stolen goods, which he naturally was able to retail 
at remarkably cheap rates. A number made their fortunes by 
dealing only with their fellow-convicts, whom a sort of free- 
masonry attracted always to convict shops. The practice, at one 
time prevalent, and to which I have already referred, of giving 
small grants of land to ticket-of -leave men, was another opening 
to convict shopkeepers and general dealers. These farmers came 
into Sydney to sell their produce. As there were no markets, 
certain individuals bought all that came, paying for the same 
in " property " — in drink, that is to say, and other articles of 
consumption. The countrymen got drunk always, and stayed 
a day or two on the same spot : at last the landlord asked 
them if they knew how much they owed. "No.''^ "Well, 
£50.'' " Why, how is that V " You've been drunk all the 
time, and did not know what you were doing.'' Of course 
the victim was unable to pay, and had to sign a power of 
attorney, or paper binding himself to give up all his produce 
until the debt was cancelled. This scheme was repeated again 
and again, till all the poor man's property was pledged, and then 
he was sold up. One man had been known to drink away his 
farm of 100 acres in a single night. It was by carrying on 
this line of action that the emancipist already mentioned as 
worth £15,000 a-year became a large landed proprietor. But 
he was also a thrifty, careful man, from the time he had 


come out when almost as a boy witli one of the first fleets. 
He was a sober man^ moreover ; and when spirits were issued 
to the convicts employed building at Paramatta, lie saved Ms 
and sold it to bis fellows. Then, putting by all the time he 
was a prisoner every shilling he could make, he was able when 
free to set up a public-house, and buy a horse and gig which 
he let for hire. One day when his trap was wanted he drove 
it himself, and had as '' fare " an ex-convict woman who owned 
a little property — some two or three hundred pounds. This 
woman he married out of hand, and then little by little 
increased his connection. 

On the whole it was not strange that there should be fierce 
warfare between the better classes and the emancipists as a 
body. Beyond doubt, it was plainly evident that the emanci- 
pists formed a very corrupting element in "general society. 
They looked with leniency on men who had committed serious 
crimes, and welcomed those whom honest people naturally 
shunned. One of the sorest points of contention was the 
admission of these emancipists to serve on juries in criminal 
and other trials. It was not alone that they leant to the side 
of the accused, and could not, even in cases clearly proved, be 
persuaded to convict ; but respectable people objected to be 
herded with them in the same panel. The question was 
warmly argued. Petitions were presented for and against; 
and this of itself showed the extent to which the convict 
element arrogated to itself power. One petition praying for 
the abolition of the practice was signed by the clergy, land- 
owners, merchants, and gentry generally; while the counter 
petition was prepared and signed mostly by men on ticket-of- 
leave. Irritated, undoubtedly, by the general state of aifairs, 
a party among the settlers grew up, and daily gained strength, 
which was pledged to the abolition of transportation. 

Truly the state of New South Wales was not at that 
time all that could be desired; crime was extraordinarily 
prevalent, a certain looseness of moral tone also, and 
abundant drunkenness; the latter indeed, at this time 
was the besetting sin of the colony. It affected all classes 
— drunken people were to be seen in all directions, men 
and women fighting in the streets, and riotous conduct every- 



where. At tlie Rocks — the Seven Dials of Sydney — the 
scenes of debauchery were repeated and always disgraceful. 
In the upper classes, at the hotel bars, the same tastes 
prevailed; and the gentry fuddled themselves with wine, just 
as the lower orders did with rum. This penchant for drink 
was curiously contagious. Free emigrants who came out with 
sober habits were soon as bad as the old hands. Of course 
among the convict class the drunkenness knew no bounds. 
The favourite drink was rum — not fine old Jamaica, but East 
Indian, fiery and hot — which was handed round undiluted in a 
bucket at all regular " sprees.^^ Often assigned servants were 
found downstairs hopelessly drunk while host and guests 
waited upstairs for dinner, the roasts being in the fire and the 
meat boiled to rags. Even good servants, fairly honest and 
capable, could not resist the bottle. The hardest drinkers 
were the '*^old hands," or convicts who had finished their 
terms and had become free. These fellows worked hard for 
a year or two till they had put by some £40 or £50, then 
posted off to Sydney to squander the whole in one big 
debauch. They stood treat to all around — rum flowed like 
water — and if the money did not go fast enough they called 
for champagne. " It is, in truth, impossible to conceive," 
continues the same writer, " the lengths to which drunkenness 
proceeds and the crime it leads to, not only to obtain the 
means of gratification, but as a consequence on indulgence.^' 
To purvey to the universal thirstiness there were dram-shops 
and publics by hundreds everywhere. Licenses were seldom 
if ever refused, even to persons of unknown character. For 
them it was quite sufl&cient to get the good word of the chief 
constable — himself an old convict. He was not above a bribe, 
and his recommendation always carried the day. " In no city 
of the world,'' says Byrne, " are there the same proportion 
of public-houses ; every fifty yards in the streets brings you to 
one — paying high rent, and doing an excellent business. . . . 
From high to low — the merchant, mechanic, and labourer, all 
alike are a thirsty community. The bar-rooms of the hotels 
and inns are as much crowded as the taps of the dram-shops. 
Drink, drink, drink, seems to be the universal motto, and the 
quantity that is consumed is incredible ; from early morning 


to night it is the same — Bacchus being constantly sacri- 
ficed to." 

Of the extraordinary prevalence of crime there could be 
little doubt. One emineut judge spoke of the colony as 
composed of two classes, whose main business respectively 
was the commission of crime and the punishment of it. 
The whole colony, he said, seemed to be in motion towards 
the courts of justice. Beyond question the criminal statistics 
were rather startling. The number of convictions for high- 
way robbery in New South Wales alone was equal to the 
whole number of convictions for all offences in England. 
Murders and criminal assaults were as common out there as 
petty larcenies at home. The rate was as one offender to 
every twenty-two of population ; while in England about the 
same period it varied from one in seven hundred and forty 
to one in a thousand. It is but fair, however, to state that 
nearly the whole mass of crime proceeded from the convicts, 
or those who had been such. Among the reputable portion of 
the population the proportion was no greater in New South 
Wales than elsewhere. Sydney was a perfect den of thieves ; 
and these, being indeed selected from the whole felonry of 
England, were quite masters of their business, and stood at 
the head of the profession. The report of the police magis- 
trate of Sydney, printed in October," 1835, gives a nice picture 
of the state of the town. Of the whole population of twenty 
thousand a large proportion were prisoners, past or present, 
" whose passions are violent, and who have not been accustomed 
to control them, yet for the most part have no lawful means of 
gratifying them. It includes a great number of incorrigible 
bad characters, who on obtaining their freedom will not apply 
themselves to any honest mode of earning their living, but 
endeavour to support themselves in idleness and debauchery 
by plunder." 

" There is more immorality in Sydney," he goes on, " than 
in any other English town of the same population in His 
Majesty's dominions." It contained two hundred and nineteen 
public-houses, and there were besides sly grog-shops innumer- 
able. " There is no town which affords so much facility for 
eluding the vigilance of the police. The unoccupied bush 

X 2 


near and witliin the town itself will afford slielter to the 
offender and hide him from pursuit ; he may steal or hire a 
boat, and in a few minutes place an arm of the sea between him 
and his pursuers. . . . The drunkenness, idleness, and careless- 
ness of a great portion of the inhabitants afford innumerable 
opportunities and temptations by day and night to live by 
plunder/^ Sir Francis Forbes, the Chief Justice of the colony^ 
endorses the foregoing statements. "That this is a true 
description/^ he says, " of the actual state of Sydney cannot be 

Another powerful voice was raised by another judge — 
Judge Burton — whose charge to the grand jury of Sydney in 
November, 1835, attracted universal attention. Not alone 
were crimes constantly detected and punished, but others, 
often the most flagrant, stalked undiscovered through the land. 
And numerous executions exercised no effect in deterring 
from crime. The example of repeated capital punishments 
caused no alarm. There was no attempt by the masters to 
raise the moral tone of their convicts ; no religious worship on 
Sundays, as we have seen ; and instead of it, drunkenness and 
debauchery. Masters, indeed, exercised hardly any control 
over their men. To this Judge Burton traced nearly all the 
crime. Many of the most daring robberies were to be 
attributed to this, and this alone. Convict servants, as many 
as five and six together, went about openly to plunder, masked 
and armed with muskets — a weapon not capable of much 
concealment. Even in broad daylight, and in the open high- 
way, harmless folk had been stopped by these miscreants and 

In a word, Judge Burton intimated clearly that transporta- 
tion must cease. The colonies could never rise to their proper 
position; they could not obtain those free institutions for 
which even then they were agitating ; in a word, the whole 
moral aspect of the colony suffered so terribly by the present 
system, that the time must come when it must be abandoned 

The reader who has followed me through this and the 
preceding chapter will probably admit that the method of 
transportation, as it had been administered, was indeed a 


•failare. Looking at tlie actual tangible results, as they 
appeared at that date, at an early period of the colonial 
history, and before years of subsequent prosperity and cleanly 
life had purged the colony of its one constant cancerous bane, 
they were most unsatisfactory. Hardly any one could be 
said to have profited in all these years but the convicts for 
whom transportation had been instituted. But it had been 
instituted as a punishment, not as a boon ; and although we 
cannot actually quarrel with a system which had the undoubted 
effect of turning large numbers of criminals into wealthy and 
therefore, to a certain extent, honest men, we may fairly con- 
demn it on principle. Eeformation and restraint from crime 
we are bound to accomplish ; the only question is whether we 
should have been so liberal to the criminal class. Trans- 
porting them to the antipodes was about the kindest thing we 
could do for them. It was, indeed, removing them to a 
distance from their old haunts and ways of life, but they went 
to a land flowing with milk and honey. After the earlier 
years the vague terrors of that unknown country had dis- 
appeared. There was money to be made out there ; a certainty 
of food, light work, and no great isolation from the company 
of their choice. Hardly a family of thieves but owned one or 
more relatives at the other end of " the pond." Those without 
relatives had numerous friends and pals who had gone before. 
Besides which there was this distinct anomaly, that convicts 
were now sent for their crimes to lands which were held out as 
a land of promise to the free emigrant. " It not unfrequently 
happens, that whilst a judge is expatiating on the miseries of 
exile, at the same time, and perhaps in the same place, some 
active agent of emigration may be found magnifying the 
advantages of the new country ; lauding the fertility of its 
soil, and the beauties of its climate ; telling of the high wages 
to be there obtained, the enormous fortunes that have been 
made ; and offering to eager and willing listeners, as a boon 
and especial favour, the means of conveyance to that very 
place to which the convict in the dock has been sentenced for 
his crimes." 

But all the arguments against transportation are now as 
clear as noonday. It failed to reform, except in a curiously 


liberal, unintentional fashion ; it was no punishment ; it was 
terribly costly; and as carried out was, at least for a time^ 
distinctly injurious to the best interests of the colonies in 
which it took effect.* 

* " In any of the leading requisites of any system of secondary 
punishment transportation was defective. Thus, it was neither for- 
midable — in other words, the apprehension of ib did not operate as 
much as possible to deter men from crime, and thus prevent the necessity 
of its actual infliction — nor was it corrective, or at least not corrupting 
■ — tending to produce in the criminal himself, if his life be spared, and 
in others, either a moral improvement, or at least as little as possible of 
moral debasement. Nor, lastly, was it cheap, so as to make the punish- 
ment of the criminal either absolutely profitable to the community, or at 
least not excessively costly. In all these requisites transportation had 
been found deficient, but chiefly in the most important, viz. in the power 
of exercising a salutary terror in ofEenders." — Archbishop Whatelys 
" Thoughts on Secondary Punishment." 




We have now arrived at a new stage in tlie history of penal 
legislation. The time had at length come when transporta- 
tion was to be distinctly discountenanced and its approaching 
abolition openly discussed. Many concurrent causes con- 
tributed to this. Sir William Molesworth's committee, in 
1837, had spoken against transportation, and in the plainest 
terms. The punishment was condemned because it was 
unequal and too often without terrors to the criminal classes j 
it was extravagantly expensive, and most corrupting to convict, 
colonist, and all concerned. The forcible oratory of 
Archbishop Whately and others had urged with incisive 
language the necessity for its discontinuance. Last, but not 
least, the protest of the colonists themselves, now for the first 
time formulated and put forward with all the insistence that 


accompanies tlie display of a virtuous determination, could 
not be entirely ignored. Important changes tlierefore were 
inevitable^ nor could tbey be much longer delayed. 

In point o£ fact, in the matter of secondary punishments it 
was a return to the position of fifty years before. Then we 
had no system at all ; now the system, such as it was, was 
found to be entirely at fault. Transportation as conducted 
had quite broken down, the hulks at home were open to the 
severest criticism, and Millbank Penitentiary was a failure. 
The situation was full of difl&culty. Lord John E-ussell, the 
then Home Secretary, may well have felt himself in the horns 
of a dilemma. At one and the same moment the three outlets 
through which the graver criminals had been disposed of were 
practically closed : the antipodes, by agitation and the strident 
voice of public opinion ; the hulks, by the faultiness of their 
internal management ; and the great reforming Penitentiary, 
by the absolute barrenness of results. If deportation beyond 
the seas were to come to an end, then the convicts must 
remain at home. But where ? Not in the hulks ; that was out 
of the question. Sir William Molesworth had recommended 
more penitentiaries, as the Nabob ordered more curricles. 
But the country grudged another half million : there had been 
little or no return for that spent years before on Millbank. 
Then it was suggested that large prisons should be con- 
structed on the principle of Pentonville, for ordinary offenders, 
while the more desperate characters were to be drafted to 
Lundy Island and other rocks that might hold them. A 
third scheme was to construct convict barracks in the neigh- 
bourhood of our dockyards, to replace the hulks; but this, 
which contained in itself the germ of our own present prison 
system, was far too radical a change to be tolerated at that 
time or for many years to come. All action being thus 
impeded and beset with difl&culty, the Government temporised 
and steered a middle course. It was thought that by 
grafting certain important so-called improvements upon the 
old system it might be retained. Doubtless, when judged 
by later experience, the plan appears shifty and incomplete ; 
but m theory and as seen at the time it was excellent. 
It was deduced by sound logical arguments from given 


premisses, and had those premisses remained unchanged 
the system might perhaps have existed longer -without 
collapse. But reasoning on paper is not the same as in 
real life : one small accident will upset the profoundest 
calculations. The plan of '^ probation ^* which I am about 
to describe was admirably devised; but it failed because 
the condition of the colonies varied, and because small 
obstacles, that were at the time of conception overlooked 
or ignored, grew in course of time sufficiently powerful to 
upset the whole scheme as originally devised. 

Beyond question the task was not a light one. The 
Government did not shirk its duty, but it was fully alive to 
the difficulties that lay in the way. Speaking some years 
later, a member of that administration thus deprecates adverse 
criticism. '' We could hardly hope," says Earl Grey,* " to 
succeed at once in devising a system of secondary punish- 
ments effectual for its purpose and free from objections, 
thereby solving a problem which has for many years engaged 
the attention of the legislators and statesmen of most civilised 
countries, and has hitherto proved most difficult for them 
a,ll.-" But they met the question manfully, and this is what 
they devised. 

Transportation was to continue in force, but it was to be 
governed by certain checks and safeguards which had been 
altogether absent before, through all the long years that 
convicts had been sent out to the antipodes. And now the 
whole stream was to be directed on Van Diemen's Land 
alone. This Van Diemen's Land, which was thenceforth to 
be only a colonial prison, had been settled some years 
later than Botany Bay, by a party under Colonel Collins 
from the parent settlement. It had struggled for life 
amid the same vicissitudes of famine and privation as New 
South Wales, and similarly some years elapsed before its 
home products were sufficient for its own support. Up to 
the year 1821 it was solely a penal settlement for the 
transportation of convicts from Sydney ; but after that date 
a few free settlers flocked to it, and by-and-by ships landed 
their living cargoes at Hobart Town direct from England, 
* Earl Grey : Colonial Policy, ii. 14. 


just as fhey did at Sydney in New Soutli Wales. The system 
of assignment was practised precisely as in the senior 
settlement, with this difference, that the discipline was more 
perfect, and the machine worked with greater ease in Van 
Diemen's Land. Two-thirds of the whole number there were 
thus in assigned service, the balance being employed as in New 
South Wales in chain-gangs, at penal settlements, or on the roads. 
Colonel Arthur, who was for many years governor of the 
colony, and who was well known as a strenuous supporter of 
transportation, claimed, and with some show of right, that 
the management and treatment of convicts had been attended 
with a greater measure of success in Van Diemen's Land than, 
elsewhere. This may have had some weight with the Govern- 
ment ; for the existence of a good system of administration was 
essential to the execution of the new project : but it is probable 
that Van Diemen^s Land was chosen as the sole future recep- 
tacle of convicts because as yet it had had no thought of 
refusing so to act. New South Wales had rebelled, but Van 
Diemen's Land was still obedient ; and no time was lost in 
turning its willingness to good account. Although for years 
it had been more or less a penal settlement, as now constituted 
it became essentially a colonial prison. Vast masses of con- 
victs were to be congregated in its chief towns ; its out-stations 
were to be overrun with convicts in various stages of eman- 
cipation ; free convicts were to be the pioneers and settlers 
of its back lands ; in a word, the whole colony was to be 
permeated, inundated, swamped with the criminal class. That 
I am using no figure of speech, and to give some idea of the 
amount of evil with which a small colony had now to deal,, 
I will mention here that in four years no less than sixteen 
thousand convicts were sent out to Van Diemen's Land, and 
that the average annual number in the colony of transported 
convicts was nearly thirty thousand. Here at home, in the 
year 1874, the total convict population in prison numbers 
from seven to eight thousand : there are, roughly, fifty-four 
thousand at large ; but our population is twenty-three millions, 
while in Van Diemen's Land, at the time of which I am writing, 
the number of persons who were free and without stain 
amounted only to thirty-seven thousand. 


The new method of carrying out transportation came into 
force on the 20th May, 1840. It was christened the " Probation" 
system, because the progressive improvement of the convicts 
was intended to depend on their progress through certain 
periods of "probation," Every convict was to be subjected to 
certain punishments and restrictions peculiar to the stage in 
which he found himself ; but these rigours were to diminish,, 
step by step, till he had passed by many gradations from 
actual imprisonment to the delights of unshackled, unconditional 
freedom. No doubt in theory the principle was excellent, and 
had those who were to be subjected to it been anything but 
living men, it might have succeeded. We can pass a piece 
of metal, or a quantity of yarn, through several stages of 
manufacture with a reasonable hope that the result, or product, 
will be something near that which we expected ; but human 
beings, especially of the criminal class, will not " come out ''' 
like combinations of figures calculated exactly, or chemical 
processes duly set in motion. Our idea, now, was to pass our 
convicts through a species of crucible of discomfort, hoping 
that in the end, under this new treatment, they would turn out 
reformed. The attitude of the convict while undergoing the 
process was to be taken as the test of his amendment : good 
behaviour then was assumed to be an earnest of good behaviour 
in the future. Here was the fallacy. We were taking promis© 
for performance ; in other words, accepting a temporary 
amendment, put forward in most cases to gain certain ends, 
as real hona fide reform. There was this grave fault even in 
the theory of the new plan ; in practice there were others, and 
greater, which soon became distinctly apparent. 

The plan of procedure is fully detailed in a despatch 
addressed by Lord Stanley, on the 15th November, 1842, to 
Sir John Franklin, then Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's 
Land. All convicts, with certain exceptions, were to be 
subjected to the new process. By it, as I have said, the 
convict was compelled to pass through certain stages, five in 
number ; and his progressive escape upwards was to be regu- 
lated altogether by his good conduct in each stage.* 

* Tlie rules were the same for boys and females, only their stations 
were of course different. 


Stated briefly these five stages were : (1) Detention at 
a purely penal station in a state of real imprisonment; (2) 
Removal to gangs working in various parts of the colony for 
G-overnmentj but still under restraint ; (3) The first step 
towards freedom, in which the convict was granted a pass to 
be at large under certain conditions, and to seek work for 
himself; (4) The second step to freedom, when the convict 
gained his ticket-of-leave, and was free to come and go much 
as he pleased ; (5) And lastly, absolute pardon. 

1. Only the worst criminals entered the first stage, and for 
them Norfolk Island (a) and Tasman's Peninsula (&) were set 
apart. These were the colonial convicts, and men sentenced 
at home to " life," or fifteen years for heinous offences. The 
term at Norfolk Island was to be not less than two years, 
and not more than four ; but misconduct consigned an offender 
to an indefinite term within his sentence. 

(a) And first as to Norfolk Island. 

Situated in semi-tropical latitudes, richly gifted by nature, 
picturesque, fertile, of fairly equable climate, this small spot 
seemed to contain within itself all the elements of a terrestrial 
paradise. It was finely timbered, chiefly with the graceful tree 
known as the Norfolk Island Pine ; limes, lemons, and guavas 
were indigenous ; all manner of fruits — oranges, grapes, figs, 
loquots, bananas, peaches, pomegranates^ pine-apples, and 
melons — grew there in rare profusion. Flowers, wild or 
cultivated, throve all around. Everywhere the eye rested on 
long fields of oats, or barley, or Indian maize. And yet the 
social condition of the island, as compared with its external 
aspect, was as the inner diseased core of an apple to its smooth 
and rosy skin. From the earliest days of the Australian 
colonies this bountifully gifted island had been made the 
receptacle---the sink, simply — of all the lees and dregs of man- 
kind. Occupied in the first instance on account of its fertile 
aspect, it was soon afterwards abandoned for no sound or 
substantial reasons. By-and-by it was again reoccupied, but 
then only as a penal settlement. ' And as such it served New 
South Wales during all the years that transportation was in 
full swing. It was a prison, and nothing more ; convicts and 
their keepers were its only population. The former at times 


varied in numbers : one year there were five hundred, another 
seven ; but their lot and condition was always much the same. 
The worst wore chains. All worked, but not excessively ; and 
the well-conducted were allowed, as their time dragged along, 
certain immunities from labour and a modicum of tobacco. 
Occasionally the gaol-gangs, the most depraved of this gather- 
ing of wickedness, broke loose, and attacked their guards with 
brutal desperation. Numbers were always shot down then and 
there, and of the balance when overpowered a fair proportion 
were forthwith hanged. Stated broadly, life in Norfolk Island 
was so bitter to the convict that many for choice sought a 
shameful death. 

Thus was Norfolk Island constituted, and such the con- 
dition of its residents, when the Home Government, in working 
out its new penal scheme, resolved to increase the numbers on 
the island, by drafting to it the most flagrant offenders from 
home. We have come by this time to accept it as an axiom in 
prison affairs, that it is unwise to concentrate in one spot the 
pith and essence of rascality ; preferring rather to subdivide 
and distribute the most dangerous elements at several points. 
But the statesmen who were then legislating on penal matters 
ignored this principle; they forgot that they were about to 
recruit the old gangs at Norfolk Island by the very men rnost 
predisposed to become as bad as those they found there. If 
the administration had been really anxious to perpetuate the 
leaven of wickedness already existent in the penal settlement, 
they could not have devised a plan more likely to attain the 
result required. 

Under the new rules Norfolk Island was intended to con- 
tain — and hereafter usually did — some 2000 convicts. Of 
these about two-thirds came from England direct, the rest 
were sentenced in the colonies. There were three stations : 
the Head-Quarters Settlement or " King's Town," Longridge, 
and Cascades. The first, situated on the south side of the 
island and facing the sea, was the most important. Here was 
the principal landing-place ; but a coral reef prevented the near 
approach of shipping, and the anchorage outside it was insecure. 
Hence all loading and unloading was done by boats ; and this, 
in itself a tedious operation, was rendered more difficult and 


dangerous by tlie heavy surf that rolled perpetually across the 
bar. But except those that came on the public service no 
vessels visited the island. There was another landing-place 
at Cascade Station, on the north side of the island, which was 
used when the state of the bar at King^s Town rendered it 
absolutely impracticable for boats. At King's Town the bulk 
of the convicts were retained. Here were their barracks, in 
which some 800 convicts slept ; here the lumber-yard, where 
the same numbers messed ; here too the hospitals, and the 
gaols for the retention of those again about to be tried for 
fresh offences in the island. The barracks, built of substantial 
limestone and surrounded by a high wall, stood some eighty 
yards from the beach; the lumber-yard close at hand was 
simply a high enclosure, two sides of which were roofed in and 
provided with rough chairs and tables ; the whole area within 
about half an acre, no more. Next to the lumber-yard, through 
which was the only entrance, stood the slaughter-houses and 
cooks' houses, all filthy in the extreme. There was no super- 
vision over the issue of rations : meat was sold openly at a 
penny per pound, and the convicts went to and fro fi'om this 
and the bakehouse just as they pleased. The gaol stood close 
to the landing-place, and close in front of its chief entrance, 
the gallows — '' so placed that you cannot pass the doorway 
without coming almost in contact with this engine of death.''* 
The hospital accommodation for the whole settlement was 
here at King's Town, and it amounted to twenty beds, with 
a detached convalescent ward, cold and cheerless, and this 
for a population of 2000, in an island where epidemic dysen- 
tery of a malignant type, especially during the summer, was 
by no means uncommon. In matters of supply the settle- 
ment was equal to its own requirements, except after seasons 
unusually bad. There was abundance of water in the neigh- 
bouring creeks, and, although this was rendered impure by 
flowing past gardens and stock-yards, it was easily filtered : 
and there were springs too in abundance. Stock was raised 
and grain chiefly at Longridge, a mile and a half from Head- 

* Eeport on Norfolk Island made to the Comptroller-General of 
Convicts. 18-16. (From which I have quoted largely.) 


Quarters. The soil was fertile naturally, but light,, and required 
good management. 

The day's work began at the several settlements at day- 
light, when the men were roused out by a bell. Any, and 
they were not few, who felt idle and indisposed to work, 
remained behind in bed. But presently — let us stand and 
look on — some 600 or 700 men have collected in the barrack 
yard, and are to be seen walking leisurely about, waiting for 
the chaplain to say morning prayers, or if he failed to appear 
— and this was not unusual — waiting for the commencement of 
muster. Should the chaplain show himself, some ten or 
twenty prisoners go with him to the chapel which is close at 
hand ; the rest remain outside, and no effort is made by the 
overseers to compel their attendance. The overseers are 
indeed powerless then, as at other times, and exercise no 
authority whatever. 

Prayers over, muster follows ; but the performance is as 
unlike the strict parade it should be as anything it is possible 
to conceive. There is no attempt at formation by classes, 
messes, or wards ; no silence, no order. The convicts lounge 
to and fro, hands in pockets, and talking to one another while 
their names are read out by convict clerks from the superin- 
tendent's office — the assistant superintendent, whose duty this 
would be, being generally unable to read or write. As each 
convict hears his name he answers or not, as it suits him, and 
then saunters over to join the working gang for which he has 
been detailed. As soon as the muster is concluded the men 
disperse, leaving the yard in groups or one by one, and proceed 
to breakfast. Here the whole body breakfast on hominy — or 
paste made from maize meal — seated under cover or in the 
open areas, preserving no appearance of order, talking and 
laughing just as they please among themselves. Breakfast 
over, some go to work, but a great many do not. They have 
their bread to bake; and this each man does for himself, 
spending half the day in sifting meal, kneading dough, and 
loitering leisurely to the bakehouse and back. The only men 
told off to regular labour are the two gangs who work the 
crank-mill, and the labour there was so regulated that half in 


turns were idle talf the day ; while those at work were riotous 
and disorderly, shrieking, yelling, hooting, and assailing every 
passer-by, whether subordinate official, magistrate, or the com- 
mandant himself, with the vilest personal abuse. The great 
mass of the convicts were engaged in quarrying or in agricul- 
tural pursuits. They were superintended by convict sub-over- 
seers, and not by free persons; and the work done was naturally 
not large, more particularly as these convict overseers went in 
daily terror of their lives. Indeed, at the time of which I am 
writing — after the introduction of '' probation," that is to 
say, and probably before it too — there was practically little 
or no discipline whatever maintained among the convicts. 
But for the bayonets and bullets of the military guard by 
which they were more or less awed — though even against 
them they rose at times, to their own disadvantage — they 
would have become the real masters of the island ; and if they 
were thus restrained by fear from overt rebellion, they did not 
hesitate to display as much sullen disobedience and active 
insubordination as they dared without bringing on themselves 
retaliatory and coercive measures. They were, in fact, for 
ever in a state of semi-mutiny which is always present among 
a body of determined but badly governed men whose rulers 
are weak, not to say cowardly. This ill-conditioned attitude 
towards authority was displayed repeatedly. Day after day 
for a week together the whole body stationed at one or other 
of the settlements refused to turn out for labour, alleging 
as cause some trivial unendorsed complaint about their food 
and lodgment. 

Flagrant outrages, like the seizure of boats which carried 
stores, were not uncommon, on which occasions the men of the 
military escort were usually thrown overboard. But perhaps 
the following occurrence, which took place before the eyes of 
a special commissioner sent from Hobart Town, will prove 
most forcibly the anarchy and indiscipline that prevailed. I 
cannot do better than use this gentleman^s own words.* 

" On the first of my morning visits to the lumber-yard, 
accompanied by the superintendent of English convicts, I 
observed, on our entry, a man very deliberately smoking, 
* Report on N"orfolk Island, by Mr. E. P. Stewart, dated June 20tli,1846. 


standing among a crowd round the fire, inside tlie cook-house." 
An officer advanced to make the man give up his pipe ; but he 
was received with a look of the most ineffable disdain, and the 
smoker, getting up with his hands in his pockets, moved to a 
part of the mess known as the "Eing,^' where all the worst 
characters collected. On this an order was issued to have the 
man taken to gaol ; but no one stepped forward to execute it, 
until at length the acting chief constable, '^who had been 
standing in the rear, advanced with admirable coolness and 
determination to the spot. The whole yard was now like a 
disturbed hive, and the superintendent expressed his conviction 
that there would be a riot, as the men would never suffer the 
culprit to be taken into custody. However, after a short time 
had elapsed, the culprit was seen emerging from the dense 
crowd by which he had been surrounded, with hands in pocket, 
attended by, rather than in custody of, the chief constable of 
the island. He {the convict) deliberately advanced to the 
superintendent, who was standing by my side, and in a most 
insolent manner said, 'What have you ordered me to gaol 
for ? ' The superintendent very coolly expostulated with him 
and advised him to go quietly, when he deliberately struck 
him two blows in the face, and using some very opprobrious 
expressions, fiercely rushed upon and nearly threw him upon 
the ground." He was seized by a constable, who asked if he 
should shoot him. But both convict and constable were borne 
away to another part of the shed by a dense crowd. The men 
got out their knives, and matters looked desperate, when the 
acting chief constable again went forward and persuaded the 
offender to give himself up. Had it not been for the presence 
of Mr. Stewart, an officer accredited from His Excellency the 
Governor of Van Diemen's Land, a very serious disturbance 
might have been expected. As it was, the most foul and 
abusive language was used by the convicts to all the officials 

This "Ring" which has just been mentioned was in itself 
a power on the island. All the worst men were leagued 
together in it, and exercised a species of terrorism over the 
rest. This was especially noticeable on the arrival and debarka- 
tion of a batch of new convicts from England, when every 



effort for their protection made by the proper authorities 
proved always ineffectual. If the new hands were lodged 
under lock and key, the men of the Ring contrived generally 
to break into the ward and rifle them of all they possessed. 
If they were marched under an escort of constables to 
bathe, the old stagers attacked them en route, or while they 
were in the water plundered them of their clothes. Thus 
banded together and utterly reckless the more depraved 
exercised a power almost absolute over their fellows, so that of 
these even the well-disposed were compelled to submit, in 
mortal terror of the deadly threats of this vicious, tyrannical 
confederacy. A convict whose conduct was good could not be 
protected from violence if there was even a suspicion, with or 
without reason, that he had borne witness against any member 
of the Ring, or was otherwise distasteful to it. Speaking in 
general terms of Norfolk Island, Mr. Stewart states that he 
is satisfied, from his inquiry, that a confirmed insubordinate 
spirit exists among the convicts, " constantly exhibiting itself 
in threats of personal violence towards subordinate officers, 
towards the constabulary if they resolutely do their duty, and 
towards their fellow-prisoners if they should be suspected of 
giving information or assistance to their officers ; which threats 
are rendered more serious and alarming from the general 
practice of carrying knives, and from their having been 
fulfilled in instances of stabbing, or assaulting by beating to a 
cruel, nearly mortal extent, and of personal injury in attempted 
disfiguration by biting off the nose, and in other overt acts of 
such a character as to produce a most serious effect in deterring 
all holding subordinate authority from the vigorous and prompt 
performance of their duty." 

I have lingered thus long over Norfolk Island because it 
was the starting-point and centre of the new scheme of penal 
legislation. In actual truth the picture I have drawn is painted 
in with colours far less sombre than the subject deserves. I 
have shown how beyond the absolute isolation and exile the 
punishment was not severe, the work light, food plentiful, and 
discipline a mere farce. I have shown how the most criminal 
were banded together to defy authority and exercise a species 
of awful tyranny over the timid and weak ; I have shown how 


these malefactors who were supposed to be expiating their 
crimes swaggered about, armed, and with knives in their 
hands, insulting their keepers with vile abuse, lording over 
their weaker fellows, using violence whenever the spirit moved 
them to murder a constable, beat a comrade to death, or make 
a mouthful of his nose, I have said that when matters went 
too far firearms and the halter were called into play, and for a 
time worked a certain cure ; but from this, the relapse was 
worse than the original disease. On other points I have not 
touched, because I do not care to sully my pages with reference 
to other atrocities perpetrated in that loathsome den — atrocities 
the existence of which was not and never could be denied, and 
for which those who inaugurated the system can hardly be 
held blameless. Regarding these, it must suffice that I refer 
to them thus vaguely and pass on. 

(h) But Norfolk Island was not the only penal settlement : 
that at Port Arthur, on Tasman^s Peninsula, was also included 
by the new scheme as one of the first-stage depots. Being 
within easy reach of Hobart Town, and not, like Norfolk Island, 
hundreds of miles away, Port Arthur was under the more 
searching supervision of the supreme authority. The peninsula 
was separated from the mainland by a narrow isthmus, across 
^hich, as I have said, sentries and fierce dogs for ever kept 
watch and ward, and escape thence was next to impossible. At 
the southern extreme of the peninsula is Port Arthur, having 
an excellent harbour, of difficult entrance but wide within, and 
with plenty of deep water. To Port Arthur were sent all 
convicts in a category a little less criminal than those of 
Norfolk Island, their number being some 1200, their work 
chiefly what is called in the Western Hemisphere "lumbering," 
or procuring wood for the sawyers and shipbuilders, who were 
also convicts. Every now and then a ship of decent tonnage 
was launched, and much coal and timber were also exported. 
There was a tread-wheel and a corn-mill, and the settlement 
was to a certain extent self-supporting. The convicts were 
lodged in hut barracks, in association with each other, but not 
in great numbers. On the whole, the establishment at Port 
Arthur was as well managed and the discipline as good as 
could be expected with such insufficient prison buildings. The 


conduct of the convicts was generally good, and punisliments 
few and far between. 

2. And now for tlie second stage. 

i^orfolk Island and Port Arthur, the purely penal settle- 
ments, I have described. At one or other of them, subject to 
such restraints as they found there, the nature of which I have 
already detailed, the convict of the worst class remained till 
he earned by good conduct his removal to the second stage, 
or that of the probation gang. To this second stage those 
convicts whose crimes were less serious had been inducted on 
£rst arrival from England. They might therefore be supposed 
to avoid a certain amount of contamination. But if they 
escaped the island, they could not escape from those who- had 
been at it ; and around these seemingly purified spirits hung 
something of the reeking atmosphere of the foul den through 
which they had passed. In this way the contagion spread ; for 
wherever there were convicts there were those who had been 
at Norfolk Island, and their influence, if not in the ascendant, 
was always more or less felt. But even without the presence 
of this pernicious virus wherewith the whole mass might be 
permeated, the probation gangs as constituted were bad 
enough to originate wickedness of their own. Having, there- 
fore, errors inherent, without counting the superadded vice tha^i 
came from the first-stage men, they served admirably to per- 
petuate the grand mistake of the whole new scheme. Soon 
after the development of this new order of things there grew 
to be sixteen of these stations. Four of them were on Tasman^s 
Peninsula, and of these, one was for invalids, and three solely 
for those who had misconducted themselves in other gangs. The 
men worked in coal mines, or raised agricultural produce. Then 
there were five stations on the coast in the neighbourhood of 
D^Entrecasteaux Channel, placed where the land was heavily 
timbered, all of which, when cleared, was to be devoted to 
crops ; others, also, more inland, and three at which the convicts 
laboured exclusively at making and repairing i-oads. In 
principle, then, probation stations were intended to give 
convicts, from the first, a certain habit of industry and 
subordination, and if they had come from the penal settle- 
ments, to continue the process. The probation stations were 


abundantly furnished witli religious instructors, and a minute 
system of notation was introduced to record exactly the 
conduct of the prisoners from day to day. It was according to 
his attitude while thus in probation that the next step in the 
relaxation of his condition was to be regulated. No doubt in 
many places the work accomplished by these probation parties 
was not inconsiderable. Naturally the first aim was that they 
should raise crops enough to sufiice for their own support; 
but after that_, their labour was directed into many channels 
that brought direct advantage to the colony. So far, too, as 
there were means available, the administration was conducted 
intelligently. But the whole numbers poured into Van 
Diemen's Land were so far in excess of the resources of the 
colony that adequate lodgment could not be provided. From 
this, and the difficulty of obtaining respectable supervisors in 
anything like due proportion, there resulted such a state of 
things that in course of time the probation gangs were not less 
a reproach than the penal settlements. 

3. The third stage was reached as soon as the convict had 
given, as it were, an earnest of his improvement. The 
Comptroller-General of convicts was constituted the judge, 
and it rested with that functionary whether the convict, after 
a certain period, should receive the boon of a " probation pass." 
The holder of this was privileged to hire himself out : to enter 
private service, and make his own terms with his future 
master. But there were certain distinctions among pass- 
holders. Those in the lowest class had to ask the governor's 
sanction to the employment they chose ; they hg,d to be 
contented with half their wages, while the other half was paid 
into a savings bank. Other classes could engage themselves 
without sanction, and got certain larger proportions — half, 
two-thirds, in the last class all their wages. These passes 
were liable to resumption for misconduct, and the holder was 
then sent back to the gangs. The chief distinction between 
these pass-holders and the men on ticket-of-leave, to whom I 
shall come directly, was, that the latter were free to roam where 
they pleased within certain districts, while the pass -holders 
were retained at hiring depots till they had found employment 
for themselves ; and even when in service they were under the 


direct control of a local magistrate, by wliom they were 
inspected every month. These hiring depots were at the 
chief towns — Hobart Town^ Launceston_, and elsewhere. The 
numbers thus on pass came to be considerable ; and, later on, 
when work was slack and labour scarce, they grew to be the 
most serious difficulty which colonial legislators were called 
upon to face. But in this I am anticipating. 

The two last stages, of (4) Ticket-of-leave, and (5) Pardon, 
were not peculiar to the new system, and differed in no respect 
to the same named condition of existence under other rules, 
except that both were to be gained less easily now, and in no 
case as a matter of right. 

I have given now an outline of the system introduced by 
Lord Stanley's despatch of 1842, and, advancing a year or 
two where it was necessary, have shown how it was practi- 
cally carried out. Of the extraordinary results that fol- 
lowed from it I shall speak also at length, but in a future 
chapter. The evils with which it was to be beset were 
not at this time foreseen, although there were some — and to 
these I have referred — which should have inspired the theorist 
with a certain dread. But it did seem in itself so symmetrical 
and so immeasurably superior to the system of assignment, 
that its authors may be pardoned almost if they hoped that 
transportation thus carried out must undoubtedly prove an 
unmixed success. 




Let us returu now to Millbank. We left it labelled a failure ; 
and we take it up where it was, but with name, character, 
and constitution all alike changed. Penitentiary no longer, 
for it does not now deserve the high-sounding title, the lofty- 
purposes with which it started remaining unfulfilled, and its 
future usefulness will be made to depend upon the wide area 
it embraces within its gloomy walls, rather than on the results 


its reformatory system might be expected to acliieve. But as 
a plain prison^ it may render more tangible service to the 
State. And just as its destination is now to be more practically 
useful than heretofore, so those who rule it are no longer 
amateurs, but officials who have made of prison matters a 
profession and a business. The superintending committee, 
composed of well-disposed gentlemen of rank, have given 
place to a board of three permanent inspectors, two of whom 
are already well known to those who have read thus far. Mr, 
Crawford, the senior member, had given much time to the 
examination of the American prisons ; and Mr. Whitworth 
Russell, the second member, was for years chaplain of Mill- 
bank. Both also had been long employed as inspectors of all 
prisons in England. The voluminous Blue-Books which 
contain their annual reports will best prove their diHgence 
in discharging this duty. Under them was a new governor — 
a person of a different stamp to mild Captain Chapman, or 
pious painstaking Mr. Nihil. Captain John R. Groves, a 
gentleman of position and well known in society, was also a 
military officer of distinction. He did not seek the appoint- 
ment, but as those in high place who knew his character 
thought him eminently well suited for the post, he was told 
that if he applied he could have it. A soldier, firm and 
resolute of will, but clear-headed, practical, able. Captain 
Groves had but one fault — he was of an irascible temper. 
However, like many other passionate men, though quickly 
aroused, he as speedily cooled. After an outburst of wrath he 
was as bright and pleasant as a summer landscape when the 
thunderstorm has passed. Added to this was a certain rough- 
ness of demeanour, which, though native often to men of his 
cloth, might easily be mistaken for overbearing, peremptory 
harshness. But that Captain Groves was well suited for 
the task that had devolved upon him there could be little 
doubt. The Millbank he was called upon to rule differed 
greatly to the old Penitentiary which had just been wiped 
out by Act of Parliament. The population was no longer, 
so to speak, permanent, but fluctuating : instead of two or 
three hundred men and youths specially chosen to remain 
within the walls for years, Captain Groves had to take in all 


that came, en route for the colonies; so that in the twelve 
months several thousands passed through his hands. More- 
over, among these thousands were the choicest specimens of 
criminality, male and female, ripe always for desperate deeds, 
and at times almost unmanageable ; yet these scoundrels he 
had to discipline and keep under with such means only as Mr. 
Nihil had left behind : for the most part the same staff of 
warders and with no increase in their numbers. And with 
all the difficulties of maintaining his repressive measures, were 
the gigantic worries inseparable from a depot prison, such as 
Millbank had become. The constant change of numbers; 
the daily influx of new prisoners, in batches varying from 
twos and threes to forties and fifties, in all degrees of disci- 
pline — sometimes drunk, always dirty, men and women 
occasionally chained together; the continuous outflow of 
prisoners to the convict transport ships — a draft of one 
hundred one day, three hundred the next, all of whom 
must carefully be inspected, tended, and escorted as far 
as the Nore — these were among the many duties of his charge. 
But Captain Grroves soon sat himself down in the saddle, 
and as soon made himself felt as master. The pi-omptitude 
with which he grasped the position is proved by his early 
orders. On the first day he found out that there were no 
standing regulations in case of fire. No fixed system or plan 
of action was established, but it was left to the governor, at 
the moment of emergency, to issue such instructions as might 
suggest themselves. There were no stations at which the 
several officials should take post on the first alarm, no regular 
practice with the fire-engine; the machine itself was quite 
insufficient, and the hose out of repair. There had been one 
or two fires already inside the prison, and the consequences 
had been sufficiently disastrous; yet no attempt had been 
made to reduce the chances by previous forethought and 
arrangement. Captain Groves prayed therefore to be permitted 
to frame regulations in advance and in cold blood, instead of 
leaving the calamity to be coped with amid the excitement of 
an actual conflagration. The fire question disposed of, the 
governor turned his eyes upon the appearance of the men 
under his charge; and, true soldier again, I find him com- 


plaining seriously of the sloucliiug gait and slovenly garb of 
the warders trained under the late regime. " I think/^ he says, 
" that the officers when together on parade, or at other times, 
should present something of the appearance of a military 
body." He wishes, therefore, to give them drill, and a waist- 
belt, and smarter uniform. Again, he finds fault with the 
armoury, and remarks that all the firearms in the prison 
consist of one or two old blunderbusses, with brass barrels 
exceedingly short, and he suggests a stand of fifty carbines 
from the Tower. Next comes a raid upon the dishevelled locks 
of the convicts. " The practice of cutting the prisoners' hair 
appears to be much neglected. I observe the majority of the 
prisoners' heads are dirty; the hair long, and the whiskers 
growing under the chin.'" To remedy this, he introduces 
forthwith the principles of the military barbers of that time : 
hair to be short on top and sides of the head, and whiskers 
trimmed on a level with the lower part of the ear — an innova- 
tion which the prisoners resent, and resist the execution of the 
order, one to the extent of saying that the next time he is 
given a razor he will cut his throat with it. But the rules are 
enforced, as are all other rules that issue from Captain Groves. 
Not that the adjustment of such trifles satisfies his searching 
spirit of reorganisation. He is much annoyed at the idleness 
and determined laziness of all the prisoners. They don't do 
iialf the work they might. The tailoring was a mere farce, 
and little boys in Tothill Fields Prison picked twice as much 
coir-junk as full-grown men in Millbank, and in a shorter 
time. As for great coats, the average turned out was one per 
week ; while they should be able to complete three or four at 
least. The governor attributes this chiefly to the "under- 
current of opposition " to his orders from officers of the 
manufacturing department. 

Indeed, not only from this branch, but from all his subor- 
dinates. Captain Groves appears to have got but half-hearted 
service. The double-faced backbitings, which had brought 
many to preferment in the last regime, were thrown away on 
the new governor. He preferred to see things with his 
own eyes, and did not encourage officers to tell tales of 
one another. When a senior officer reports a junior for 


using bad language, Captain Groves remarks, ''I must state 
my apprehensions tliat the practice which has prevailed 
of ivatching for bad or gross language uttered by warders off 
duty, and reported without their knowledge, accompanied by 
additions to the actual offence — such a system I consider will 
introduce discussion and discord into the prison, and produce 
universal distrust and fear. No warder can feel himself safe 
when he knows that an unguarded word may be brought 
against him at some future day/' The practical common 
sense of these remarks no one can deny ; but those who knew 
Captain Groves will smile as they remember that his own 
language at times savoured '' of the camp/' and he possibly 
felt that under such, a system of espionage he himself might be 
caught tripping. But in setting his face against the old 
practices he was clearly right, although it might bring him 
into disfavour with those hypocritical subordinates who felt 
that their day of favour was over. Of most of the Penitentiary 
officers, indeed. Captain Groves had formed but a low estimate. 
In more ways than one he had found them lax, just as he found 
that the routine of duties was but carelessly arranged. There 
was no system : the night patrols, two in number to every two 
pentagons, slept as they pleased half the night or more, and 
were seldom subject to the visits of " rounds " or other imperti- 
nences from over-zealous officials ; no one was responsible for 
the prison during the night ; strangers came and went through 
the inner gates and passed on to the innermost part of the 
prison, ostensibly to buy shoes and other articles made by the 
prisoners, but really to see their friends among the latter; 
eoal porters, irresponsible persons, often from the lowest classes 
(one was afterwards a convict), were admitted with their sacks 
into the heart of the wards, male and female, and could 
converse and traffic with the prisoners all day long. There 
was no notice board at the gates or elsewhere to warn visitors 
of the penalties of wrong-doing. 

In all these matters the reform that was so urgently needed 
Captain Groves introduced, and that with no faltering hand. 
Naturally in the process he trod on many toes, rubbed up 
many old prejudices, and made himself generally unpopular. 
Nor was the bad feeling lessened when it became known that 


he looked on tlie bulk of tlie old officers as inefl&cient, and 
recommended their dismissal en masse. Discontent grew and 
rankled among the majority; but although nearly all chafed 
under the tightened bit, few for a long time went beyond a 
certain insolent restiveness, though some were brave enough 
to complain against the governor's tyranny and to talk of 
active resistance. It was not, however, till Captain Groves 
had been in office nearly three years that all these muttered 
grumblings took shape in an actual combination against him. 
Of this he had notice, for a paper was put into his hand giving^ 
full disclosures and a list of the conspirators, many of whom he 
had thought trustworthy men ; but he disdained to act on the 
information. The malcontents were not however to be disarmed 
by his magnanimity. Feeling certain that their case was 
strong, and that they could substantiate their charges against 
him, one of their number, in the name of all, presented a 
petition to the House of Commons, praying for an inquiry 
into the condition of Millbank Prison. This petition was 
signed by Edward Baker, ex-warder, and it was laid upon the 
table of the House by Mr. Duncombe, M.P. 

Baker's petition set forth that he had filled the office of 
warder for more than three years, but that he had at lengtL 
been compelled to resign " in consequence of the oppressive 
and tyrannical conduct on the part of Captain Groves, the 
governor of the prison, towards the prisoners and officers 
themselves. He also impugned the character of the governor,, 
charging him with drunkenness and the habitual use of foul 
language ; and indirectly reflecting on the three inspectors,, 
who in permitting such malpractices had culpably neglected 
their duties. 

1. The first allegation was that on one occasion a prisoner, 
Chinnery, had a fit in the airing-yard, just before the governor 
entered it. " What's the matter here ? " asked Captain 
Groves. " A prisoner in a fit.'' " A fit — he's not in a fit ! " 
(He was standing on his feet.) " No, he's reviving." '' Non- 
sense," said the governor, '^ he never had a fit. It this 
man has any more of his tricks report him to me." Further,, 
the governor had sent the supervisor to bring up the prisoner 
for this same feigning of a fit, and had sentenced him, without 


medical testimony, to three days' bread and water. Yet this 
very Chinnery had been in the prison under a previous sen- 
tence, and had been lodged always next door to a warder, so 
that assistance might always be at hand when he had a fit. 

2. The next charge was that the governor had sentenced 
three boys, for opening their Bibles in church, to seven days' 
bread and water, censuring them for such conduct, " which he 
considered irreverent." (The words are Baker's.) 

3. The third, that a prisoner who had assaulted and 
wounded a warder with a pair of scissors, had not only been 
flogged, but the governor had specially sentenced him to be 
deprived henceforward of all instruction, religious or moral. 

4. The fourth charge referred to a prisoner. Bourne, whom 
it was alleged the doctor had neglected, refusing to see him, 
although he was actually in a dying state. At length the 
officer of his ward sent specially to the doctor, who came and 
had Bourne removed to the infirmary, where he died two days 
afterwards. "It was the governor's plain duty to have pre- 
vented such a catastrophe," said Baker. 

5. A prisoner, Harris Kash, died of dysentery after three 
months of the ordinary discipline. " The body was what may 
be termed a perfect skeleton." 

6. Another prisoner, a boy Richmond from Edinburgh, 
died after four months, having been confined in a dungeon on 
one pound of bread and two pints of water per diem, for an 
unlimited number of days. At night he lay upon the boards 
and had only a rug and a blanket to cover him. 

7. That several prisoners who had been present at the 
infliction of corporal punishment had immediately after hanged 
themselves, shocked by the sight they had seen. 

8. Many instances were quoted of the governor's harsh- 
ness and partiality : fines inflicted unequally, old officers 
punished through his misrepresentation, others deprived of 
their situations as inefficient, though for years they had been 
considered efficient; while several had resigned sooner than 
submit to such tyranny. 

9. Edward Baker further asserted that the reply furnished 
to the House to his first petition was garbled and untrue. It 
had been prepared secretly in the prison ; it was altogether 


false ; facts had. been suppressed or distorted ; and that besides> 
the " cats " used were not those sanctioned by law. 

10. That the governor had exceeded his powers of punish- 
ment, and that in some cases prisoners had undergone as many 
as eighteen days' bread and water in one month. 

Finallyj to quote the words of the petition, Baker urged 
that — " Daring the last three years the cruel conduct of the 
governor is known to have induced twenty prisoners to attempt 
suicide, and that four have actually succeeded in destroying 
themselves, and that others are constantly threatening self- 
destruction; forming a melancholy contrast with the system 
pursued during the twenty-three preceding years at the Mill- 
bank Penitentiary, that system being free from any such stain 
during that period.'^ * 

" That the severity of punishments for alleged offences 
has led to the removal of many prisoners in a dying state to 
the invalid hulk at Woolwich, where every seventh man has 
since died, although when they came into the prison they were 
in good health. This cruel removal takes place to prevent the 
necessity for coroner's inquests within the walls and exposure 
of the discipline of the prison." 

The petitioner therefore prays for an immediate inquiry 
into the manner in which Millbank is conducted, the deaths 
that have occurred, the cruelties that are practised, the dying 
prisoners that have been removed ; also into the numerous 
reports and irregular hours and conduct of the governor, and 
how far the inspectors have done their duty by allowing such 
irregularities to pass unnoticed; ^'such facts being notorious 
to all the prison." 

In consequence of this petition an inquiry was instituted by 
the House of Commons; and the Earl of Chichester, Lord 
Seymour, and Mr. Bickham Escott were appointed commis- 

A very searching and patient investigation followed, the 
full report of which fills an enormous Blue-Book of hundreds 
of pages. It would be tedious to the reader if I were to go 
through the evidence, in anything like detail, of the many 

* Mr. Baker was a little misinformed ou this point, as will be evident 
to all wlio have read chapters vi. and vii. 


witnesses examined ; the commissioners may be trusted to have 
done this conscientiously, and their summing up in deciding on 
the allegations against Captain Groves I shall quote directly. 
The evident animus of the subordinates against their governor 
is very clearly shown in every page : nothing he did was right, 
and the complaints when not actually false, as in the case of 
prisoner Chinnery, were childish and almost beneath considera- 
tion. One officer declared that Captain Groves did not like the 
old prison officers; that he had said openly ''he would get 
them all out/' They could never please him ; they got no 
credit however much they might exert themselves. Another 
told the governor he was breaking his (the officer's) spirit and 
his heart. "He (Captain Groves), after making his rounds, 
would send for supervisors and warders in a body and reprimand 
them in his office. Once when an officer expostulated with 
him, Captain Groves struck him to the ground with his stick, 

and swore he'd have none of his d d Penitentiary tricks." 

Another officer, who had been on duty to Pentonville and 
came back without an important document, complained that 
he had been sent again all the way to the Caledonian Road to 
fetch it. Mr. Gray (the victim) considered this was a great 
hardship, although he admitted that he was none the worse for 
his walk. All the officers were positive they had much more 
to do now than ever before. Mr. Gray, above-mentioned, 
complained also that he had been deprived of his lawful leave ; 
yet he admitted that when all the paint work of the prison was 
filthily dirty and had to be scrubbed, it was badly done ; and 
that the governor had only insisted on officers remaining on 
duty till the whole was properly cleaned. 

It was indeed quite evident from cross-examination and 
from the evidence of Captain Groves, that the bulk of his 
officers were slovenly, slack in execution of their duties, and 
litigious. Captain Groves, on the other hand, was doing his 
best to improve the tone of discipline. No doubt he was 
stern and peremptory in his dealings. We can quite under- 
stand that his reprimands were not couched in milk-and-water 
language; that he more than once said, "By this, or that," 
and swore he would not suffer such doings to pass unpunished, 
and that those who opposed him should forthwith be dismissed. 


But it is also clear tliat lie was not well served. Those who 
held under him important posts were not always reliable and 
fitted for the charge. On one occasion^ for instance, an officer 
was so negligent of the prisoners in his charge, that the 
governor, as he came by, was able to remove one unobserved. 
This prisoner he takes back to his cell, and then returns to the 
spot to ask the officer how many he has in charge. " So 
many.-'^ "Are you sure? Count them." "No; I am one 
short ! " " Ah ! " said the governor, and added something 
more in rather stronger language. Again, in the case of two 
barefaced escapes the governor expresses himself in these 
terms : 

" Prisoner Howard escaped under the very nose of No. 2 
sentry. The night was clear and fine, and the governor 
cannot acquit the sentry of No. 2 beat of great negligence. 
It is quite impossible, on such a night as the night of last 
Friday, for any individual to have performed such work in the 
garden as raising planks, etc., against the boundary wall 
without detection had common care been taken." * 

" In regard to the escape of Timothy Tobin, the operations 
he had recourse to, to break through the cell, made great 
noise, and attracted the attention of several of the night 
guard; and the governor is concerned to find that the 
principal warder in charge of the prison as orderly officer 
made no effort to detect the cause of the constant knocking in 
Pentagon 5, but contented himself with the reports of inferior 
officers, without rising from his bed or anticipating his intended 
time of going his rounds. The qualifications which entitle 
an officer to promotion in this and every other establishment, 
are intelligence, activity, and a sense of individual responsi- 
bility ; and no person is fit for the situation of supervisor or 
principal warder who is not prepared to exercise them on all 

This was our friend Mr, Gray again ; and it was he who, 
with others equally negligent, were so sensitive, that they 
felt aggrieved at Captain Groves' seemingly merited repri- 
mands. But in actual investigation all charges of this kind 
melted into thin air as soon as the commissioners looked 
* This escape has been described in chap, x. 


into them. The charges of tyranny were not substantiated, 
because they were far-fetched and exaggerated. Such stories 
must have been diflBcult to find when one of the charges 
trumped up against the governor was that he had kept the 
chaplain's clerk one day without his dinner. We should even 
assert that the whole inquiry was another monument of mis- 
directed zeal, were it not that the original petition opened 
up serious topics which demanded attention. Whether or 
not the mere details of administrative bickering might not 
have been better settled by officials within the department 
than by parliamentary interference, I will not presume to 
decide ; but when it is alleged in an indictment that unfor- 
tunate prisoners, without a friend in the world, are done to 
death by ill-treatment, it is clearly necessary that the said 
charges should be sifted without delay. In this way the 
inquiry was distinctly useful, and I shall now give the decision 
at which the commissioners arrived. 

"These petitions seriously impugned the character and 
conduct of the Governor of Millbank Prison ; and consequently 
imputed to the inspectors, under whose superintendence the 
government of this prison is placed, a culpable neglect of 
their duty in having permitted such maladministration to 

" 1. The allegation respecting the treatment of Chinnery is 
the only charge on which the petitioner could prove anything 
from his own knowledge ; and, since it occurred after he had 
sent in his resignation, could not be one of the instances of 
cruelty in consequence of which he resigned. The fault or 
innocence of the governor on this occasion depends entirely 
upon the validity of reasons alleged by him for concluding that 
the prisoner was only feigning a fit. There being no other 
witness but himself and Baker, we cannot pronounce a decided 
opinion upon so very doubtful a question. Reviewing, how- 
ever, all the circumstances which were brought under our notice 
in connection with this case, we think the governor should, 
before awarding the punishment, have made a closer investi- 
gation into all the facts, and have consulted the medical officer 
for the purpose of testing the probable accuracy of his impres- 
sions. In this case^ therefore, we are of opinion that the 



punishment, whether merited or not merited by the prisoner, 
was injudiciously inflicted by the governor. 

" 2. The commissioners think the governor rather over- 
strained their powers in punishing the boys for reading their 
Bibles in chapel. 

" 3. The prisoner Bunyan was sentenced and punished by 
flogging, as described, for an aggravated and malicious assault. 
The second allegation, that he was ordered to receive ' no 
instruction, either religious or moral,' is untrue. He was 
visited by the chaplain, and had the usual access to religious 

" 4, No evidence to support charge against the governor in 
case of H. Bourne ; but the latter was certainly not well treated 
by the resident medical oJBBcer. 

" 5. Harris Nash died of a severe attack of dysentery. He 
was an ill-conditioned, mutinous prisoner, who frequently 
attacked his officers ; but, though he was often punished, 
his death was attributable to the dysentery and nothing else. 

" 6. No responsibility rests with the governor as to 
Richmond's death. No symptom of disease on him when first 
he arrived at Millbank, and he was never punished when the 
disease showed itself. 

" 7. There does not appear to be the slightest foundation 
for the suggestion insinuated in this charge j neither of the 
three prisoners named having witnessed any punishments 
calculated to produce a bad effect on their minds. 

" 8. The charges of partiality were distinctly disproved ; 
as were also the allegations contained in 9 and 10, which were 
found to be quite ' unfounded, in fact.' 

"Upon the general charge of irregularity, and especially 
upon a charge of intoxication preferred by some of the wit- 
nesses, after a minute consideration of all the circumstances 
detailed in the evidence, we feel bound to acquit the governor, 
and to express our strong disapprobation of the manner in 
which the charge was attempted to be proved. 

" Having thoroughly sifted the complaint against the 
governor, and made some allowance for exaggeration on 
the part of witnesses, whose accusations were seldom warranted 
by the facts which they attempted to prove, we have no 


hesitation in pronouncing our opinion that lie has endeavoured 
to perform his duties with zeal and intelligence, and has done 
nothing to discredit the very high testimonials which he pos- 
sesses from the officers in the army under whom he formerly 
served. His treatment of the prisoners, except in the two 
cases above mentioned, appears to have been judicious and 
considerate. Cases were indeed brought under our notice in 
which the prisoners complained of excessive severity ; but the 
responsibility for these cases rests upon the subordinate officers, 
as it does not appear that the governor was made acquainted 
with these complaints. The substitution of the punishment of 
I'educed diet in lieu of a dark cell appears to have been made 
by the governor from motives of leniency and with a view to 
preserving the health of prisoners. 

"The only faults with which he appears justly chargeable 
^re : — 

" 1. A too hasty method of dealing with his officers when 
reported to him by others, or detected by himself in some 
neglect of duty ; not always giving them a sufficient oppor- 
tunity for explanation or defence. 

'' 2. The occasional use of improper or offensive expressions, 
of which we should express our condemnation more strongly 
were it not that the instances adduced by all the witnesses 
amounted only to three. 

" 3. An insufficient attention to the rules of the prison ; 
it appearing from his own evidence that he was entirely 
ignorant of the legal force of the old penitentiary rules, and 
that in two important instances the rules actually stuck up in 
the prison were not strictly attended to by him. 

" The want of a complete code of rules suited to the present 
government of the prison has apparently given rise to many of 
the charges and to much of the ill-feeling which have come 
under our observation during this inquiry. 

" No doubt there existed a very extended feeling of dis- 
content among the officers. It is probable that this may 
partly have originated in the changes which took place at the 
organisation of the present establishment, by which the duties 
of the prison were necessarily rendered more irksome and 

z 2 


" The old prison possessed more of a reformatory eHaracter :■ 
the prisoners were confined there for mucli longer periods,, 
were under the influence of stronger motives to good conduct, 
and by habits longer exercised became more accustomed to 
the regular routine of prison life. In the prison, as now con- 
stituted, few of the adult convicts remain for more than two, 
or most, three months ; and of those who remain for a longer 
period, the most part are criminals of the worst description, 
who are awaiting embarkation for their final destination, 
Norfolk Island. 

" The effective government of these convicts can only be 
carried on by a very strict and vigilant attention on the part 
of the oflBcers. We must add that these important changes 
had to be commenced and carried out by a new governor 
with an old set of officers, and, in our opinion, with an inade- 
quate addition of strength. It was but natural that the old 
officers, receiving little or no increase of pay, while their 
duties were generally augmented, should have felt some dis- 
satisfaction, and that a portion of it should have vented itself 
in personal feelings towards the governor, who appears to be 
both a zealous and energetic officer, giving his orders in a 
peremptory manner as a man accustomed to military life, and 
expecting them to be obeyed with soldierlike precision. We 
regret however to observe that, whilst these officers omitted to' 
make a single complaint or suggestion of grievance to their 
legitimate superiors, they formed a kind of combination 
amongst themselves for the discussion of their supposed 
wrongs and for collecting matter for complaint against the- 

On the whole, then. Captain Groves came triumphantly out 
of the inquiry into his conduct. Beyond doubt his task was a 
difficult one. He had within the walls of his prison a large- 
body of criminals who were not to be managed easily. Their- 
offences were more deliberate, and their violence more sys- 
tematic than anything which I have described in the Peni- 
tentiary days. When they assaulted officers, which they did 
frequently, from Captain Groves himself downwards, it was. 
with the intention of murdering them ; and when they wished 
to escape, as often as not they managed to get away. They 


stabbed tlieir officers witli shoemakers' knives, or dug scissors 
into their arms ; while one, when searched, was found with a 
heavy cell stone slung to a cord, supplying thus a murderous 
weapon, of which he coolly promised to make use against the 
first who approached. Another ruffian, named Long, a power- 
ful, athletic man, dashes at his officer's throat and demands 
the instant surrender of his keys. Edward King, another, 
meeting the governor on his rounds, assails him with abuse, 
then strikes him on the mouth; whereupon Captain Groves 
promptly knocks him down. And of all the annoyances, none 
equalled those that came from the "juvenile ward," as it was 

In this Captain Groves had raised a sort of Frankenstein 
to irritate and annoy him, which he found difficult to lay. 
Early in his reign he had felt the necessity for some special 
treatment of boy prisoners. There were nearly 200 of these; 
and though styled boys, they were many of them youths of 
ages varying from seventeen to twenty years. After much 
anxious consideration he constructed from his own plans a 
large general ward to accommodate the whole number. This 
building still exists, although it has since been converted into 
a Roman Catholic chapel. It is built of brick, only one storey 
high, with a light roof supported by slender iron rods. Around 
the wall were bays, holding each three hammocks by night, but 
in which these juveniles worked during the day. And they could 
work well if they pleased. For" general intelligence and astute- 
ness these boys were not to be matched in all the world. They 
were the elite of the London gamins, the most noted " wires," the 
cleverest thieves, and the most unmitigated young vagabonds 
of the whole metropolis. It was a similar gathering, but on a 
larger scale, to that with which we are familiar in the pages 
of "Oliver Twist." Properly dii-ected they had talent enough 
for anything. They were soon taught to be expert tradesmen ; 
could stitch with the best tailors, and turn out an upper or a 
half-sole without a flaw. It was part of Captain Groves* 
scheme to drill them; and these active lads soon constituted 
an uncommonly smart battalion. 

So far we see only the bright side of the picture; the 
.reverse is not so exhilarating. The mere fact of bringing 


together in this way a mass of juveuile rascality, without 
adequate means of restraint, was to open the door to mutinous 
combinations and defiant conduct. Over and above the 
buoyancy of spirits natural to youth, which tempts every 
school-boy to mischief, there was present among the inmates 
of this juvenile ward an amount of innate depravity, due to 
early training and general recklessness of life, which soon led 
them to the most violent excesses. Within a week or two of 
the opening of the ward under the brightest auspices, the 
governor records that already they exhibit strong tendencies 
to run riot. They use threatening language to their ofiicers, 
are continually at loggerheads with each other, and their 
quarrels soon end in blows. Presently one makes a violent 
attack on his warder, and kicks his shins ; but for this he is 
incontinently flogged, and for a time the lightheartedness of 
the ward is checked. But only for a time : within a week the 
bickering recommences, and there are half a dozen fights in 
less than half a dozen days. Appeal is now made to the birch- 
rod, also for a time effectual. But the temptation to misconduct 
in marching to and fro from drill, exercise, or chapel is too 
strong for these young ragamuffins, and their next feat is to 
put out the gas as they go, then lark along the passages. The 
governor prays for more powers to punish them. " By their 
refractory and insolent conduct,^^ he says, "they wear out the 
patience of every officer set over them, and turn him into an 
object of ridicule and contempt.^' 

It occurs to them now that they can cause some consider- 
able inconvenience by breaking out at night; so night after 
night, when the watch is set and the prison is quiet, they 
burst out into yells and general uproar, till the night guards are 
compelled to ring the alarm bells to call assistance. This 
continues to such an extent that Captain Groves fears it will 
be impossible to persuade officers to remain in the general 
ward after dark. Of course they are all experienced thieves. 
On one occasion an officer on duty has his pocket picked of a 
snuff-box. " I know where it is,^^ volunteers a boy ; but after 
a long search it could not be found in the place he indicated : 
then they search the boy himself, and find the box secreted 
on his person. Another lad, with infinite cunning, nearly 


succeeds in effecting his escape. One niglit after midniglit 
he left his bed^ and crawling under the other hammocks, he 
got to a wide stone which covered the entrance to the ven- 
tilating flues. This stone he removed, and then descended 
into the flue, meaning to follow it till he reached the airing- 
yard; thence he meant to climb to the roof and descend 
again. In view of this he carried with him a long cord, made 
of sundry skeins of thread, which from time to time he had 
stolen and secreted. As it happened, a warder going his 
rounds set his foot on the mat which the boy had placed over 
the hole into the flue, tripped, and nearly tumbled in ; then 
the prisoner, who was in the flue, fearing he was discovered, 
came out. But for this accident he might have got clean away. 
After this the uproarious behaviour of the boys waxed worse. 
The governor begins to have serious apprehensions that 
discipline will greatly suffer. Stronger measures of repression 
are tried, but without effect. They continue still fighting, 
refusing to work, yelling in concert after dark, assaulting and 
maltreating their officers by throwing brooms at their heads 
and kicking their shins. Throughout, too, their conduct in 
chapel was most disgraceful, and it became a serious question 
"" whether they ought not to be kept away altogether from 
divine service, as their example would certainly attract followers 
among the general body of the prisoners.^' 

At length it comes to this, that the ward must be broken 
up, and the boys distributed among the various pentagons. It 
is felt to be dangerous to keep so many elements of discord 
concentrated together in one room. This was accordingly 
done ; but by-and-by, for reasons that are not given — probably 
on account of want of space in the crowded condition of the 
prison — the general ward is again occupied with these pre- 
cocious juveniles. Yet, as I find it recorded, within a few days 
a scene took place in the room at a late hour of the night, 
which called for immediate decisive action. 

About 11 P.M. the governor was sent for. The ward yvas 
described to be in a state of mutiny. On his arrival the 
prisoners appeared much excited, but comparatively quiet. 
At his order they assembled quietly enough and fell in by 
word o£ command. He then asked what it all meant, and 


heard that from 10 to 10.30 there had been periodic shoutings, 
and this chiefly from one particular boy. As it rose at last to 
something serious, the alarm bell was rung, and on the arrival 
of the reserve guard the ringleader was pointed out, by name 
Sullivan, who had shouted the loudest. Ordered first to get 
out of his hammock, he obstinately refused to move, and 
when at last dislodged by force, he broke away from the 
oflficers, jumped on to the hammock rails, and thence to the 
iron girders of the roof. An oflScer promptly followed him, 
and " a scene ensued which it is impossible to describe." lie 
was at length captured, however ; but upon the whole incident 
the governor remarks as follows : " These circumstances 
afford matter for grave consideration. Hitherto, owing to 
strict discipline and energy on the part of the ofiicers, the 
system of the juvenile ward has been successful, with occasional 
exceptions in regard to misbehaviour on the part of a few 
turbulent characters. Of late, generally speaking, their conduct 
has been insubordinate and disorderly, and the fact is that 
the officers in charge of them are under serious apprehen- 
sions for their own personal safety. Besides, as I have before 
noticed, owing to the paucity of their number, their rest is 
broken night after night by being obliged to rise from their 
beds to quell disturbances; whilst the night guards, who 
ought to be taking their rest in the day time, are obliged to 
attend at the prison for the purpose of substantiating their 
reports of the previous night. 

" It is quite evident that an emeute among so many 
prisoners (180) assembled together would be difficult to 
quell ; and in my opinion their age is a very dangerous one, 
ranging as it does from seventeen to twenty years. Many of 
them are athletic, and formidable in point of temper likewise." 

The governor decided to place additional patrols in the 
juvenile ward taken from the garden, although he was loth 
to denude the garden of guards, seeing that the prison was 
full to overflowing of convicts. 

I have dealt in the last few pages with the misconduct of 
the boys as it showed itself in a comparatively short period of 
time. I might continue the narration, but it would be simply 
to repeat what has gone before. The contumacy of these 


lads continued for more than a year : again and again tliey 
broke out, insulted, bearded, browbeat their officers till the 
latter stood almost in awe of their charge ; night after night 
the pentagon was made hideous with their outcries and uproar. 
The governor was pressed to abolish the ward altogether; but 
the project was a pet one, and he hesitated to abandon it. 
He never got quite the better of the boys ; but in the end 
firmness and a resolute exhibition of authority had its effect, 
and the ward, if not for ever quelled, was at least brought to 
something like subordination and order. 




It is of course clear to the reader that the convicts who were 
now and hereafter contained within the Millbank walls 
comprised the cream of the criminal class. There is this 
difference between the calendars at Newgate and at Millbank, 
that at the former place the worst criminals pass without 
delay beyond the ken of man, while at the large depot prison 
they at least continue alive. 

The calendar of such a county gaol is but a record of 
executions, and its experiences are chiefly with the condemned 
cell, the shrift of the Ordinary, dying confessions, and the last 
awful act. At Millbank there was no infliction of the extreme 


penalty of the law: the prison received only those who jast 
escaped hanging-, as the saying is, by the skin of their teeth. 
In previous years, under a more barbarous code, Tyburn would 
have been their inevitable fate ; but now the punishment to 
which they were doomed was secondary, not capital. These, 
then, without exception came to Millbank, at least for a time. 
A few among them there were who might be styled unfor- 
tunate, perhaps — men who had been drawn into misdeeds by 
accident, by weakness, or a long chain of misfortunes ; but the 
larger proportion were undoubtedly men who would to-day 
be styled " habituals," and who stood quite at the head of their 
infamous profession. The registers of Millbank prison there- 
fore contain many notorious names, and its records bear 
witness to many curious circumstances connected with these 
desperate characters. I shall devote a couple of chapters now 
to some reference to the most remarkable cases. 

Foremost on the Millbank calendar stand those of the 
upper classes, who would have been styled in Australia, 
" specials,'^ or '' gentlemen convicts." It was said, that of 
these there were at one and the same time in Millbank two 
captains, a baronet, four clergymen, a solicitor, and one or two- 
doctors of medicine. The tradition is hen trovato, if not 
exactly true. Of course in such a prison there would be 
representatives of every class, and although the percentage of 
gentlemen who commit crimes is in the long run far below 
that of the middle or lower classes, there is no special natural 
law by which the blue blood is exempted from the ordinary 
weakness and imperfections of humanity. Most of these 
genteel people who found themselves in Millbank owed their 
fate to forgery or fraud. There was the old gentleman of 
seventy years of age, who had been a mayor in a north- 
country manufacturing town, and who had forged and 
defrauded his nieces out of some £360,000. The officers 
speak of him as " a fine old fellow," who took to his new task 
of tailoring like a man, and who could soon turn out a soldier's 
great-coat as well as anyone in the prison. Another convict 
of this stamp was Mr. T., a Liverpool merchant in a large way 
of business, who was a forger on quite a colossal scale. It was 
proved at his trial that he had forged in all thirty bills of 


■exchange, amounting in all to £32,811, and tliat lie liad a 
guilty knowledge of one hundred and fifteen other bills, which 
were valued in all at £133,000. In his defence it was urged 
that he had taken up many bills before they were due, and 
would undoubtedly have taken up all had not the discovery of 
one forgery exposed his frauds and put an end suddenly to 
his business. Still, said his counsel, his estate could have 
paid from twelve to fifteen shilHngs in the pound, and it could 
hardly be maintained against him that he had any moral 
intention of defrauding. Judge Talfourd appears to have 
commented strongly, in summing up, upon such an idea of 
morality as this ; and then and there sentenced Mr. T. to 
transportation for life. Unfortunately for the criminal him- 
self, his sentence came a little too late : had he gone out to 
New South Wales twenty years earlier, with his commercial 
aptitude and generally unscrupulous plan of action, he would 
have run well to the front in the race for wealth amidst his 
felon competitors. 

More contemptible, but not less atrocious, was the conduct 
of B., who had taken his diploma as surgeon, and had practised 
as such in many parts of the country. His offence was bigamy 
on a large scale : he was guilty of a series of heartless 
deceptions, so that it was said the scene in court when this 
Blue Beard was finally arraigned, and all his victims appeared 
against him, was painful in the extreme. He was brought to 
book by the friend of a young lady to whom he was trying to 
pay his attentions. This gentleman, being somewhat suspicious, 
made inquiries, and discovered enough to have B. arrested. 
Four different certificates of marriage were put in evidence. 
It seemed that, although already married in Cornwall, he 
moved thence and took a practice in another county, where he 
became acquainted with a lady residing in the neighbourhood, 
who had a little money of her own. He made her an offer, 
married her, and then found that by marriage she forfeited the 
annuity she previously enjoyed. After a short time he 
deserted her, having first obtained possession of all her clothes, 
furniture, trinkets, and so forth, which he sold. His next 
affair was on board an East Indiaman bound to Calcutta, in 
which he sailed as surgeon — wishing doubtless to keep out of 


the way for a while. Among the passengers was a Miss B., 
only fifteen years of age, who was going out to the East with 
her mother and sisters. He succeeded in gaining her affections, 
and obtained the mother's consent to the marriage on arrival 
at Calcutta. He made out, by means of fraudulent documents 
prepared on purpose, that he had inherited £5000 from his 
father, and offered to settle £3000 on his bride. The marriage 
came off in due course at Calcutta, and then the happy pair 
returned to England. Soon after their arrival, B. deserted his 
new wife in a hotel in Liverpool. Before long he began the 
affair which led to his detection. 

B. is remembered in Millbank as a man of considerable 
attainments. He was well educated, and spoke several 
languages. One of his favourite feats was to write the Lord's 
Prayer on a scrap of paper not larger than a sixpence, in fiv& 
different languages. In his appearance there was nothing to 
justify his success with the female sex. If anything he was 
plain, thereby supporting Wilkes, who asserted that he was 
only five minutes behind the best-looking man in a room. 
In complexion B. was dark, almost swarthy j in figure, stout. 
He could not be called even gentlemanlike in his bearing. But 
he had a good address ; spoke well and readily ; and he was 
extremely shrewd and clever. As a prisoner his conduct was 
all that could be desired. He passed on like the rest 
eventually to Australia, where he again married. 

The clergymen whose crimes brought them to Millbank 
were rather commonplace characters; weak men, mostly, 
who could not resist their evil propensities. Of course 
they were not always what they pretended to be. One of 
the most noteworthy was the Honourable and Reverend 

Mr. , who was really an ordained minister of the 

Church of England, and had held a good living in Ireland, 
worth £1400 a year. But he was passionately addicted to 
the turf, and attended every meeting. His luck varied con- 
siderably — sometimes up and sometimes down. He came at 
length to lose every shilling he had in the world at Man- 
chester races. The inveterate spirit of gambling was so 
strong within him that he was determined to try his luck 
again. He had been staying at a friend's house — a careless 


man, of good means, wlio left his cheque-book too accessihle 

to others. The Honourable and Eeverend Mr. went 

straight from the course to his friend's study, filled in a 
cheque, forged the signature, took the bank en route to the 
races, and recommenced operations forthwith. Meanwhile 
his friend went also, quite by accident, to the bank for cash. 
They told him a large cheque had only just been paid to his 
order. " I drew no cheque ! " " Why, here it is ! " " But 
that is not my signature.'' Whereupon the honourable and 
reverend gentleman was incontinently arrested in the middle 
of the grand stand. His sentence was transportation for life, 
and from Millbank he passed on in due course to the anti- 
podes. He was a poor creature at the best times, and under 
prison discipline became almost imbecile and useless. After a 
long interval he gained a ticket-of-leave, and was last heard of 
performing divine worship at an out-station at the rate of a 
shilling a service. 

Of a very different kidney was the Eev. A. B., a man of 
parts, clever and dexterous, who succeeded in everything he 
tried. He spoke seven languages, all well ; and when in prison 
learnt with ease to tailor with the best. 

Somewhat similar to him in character was the Eev. Dr. B., 
a doctor of divinity according to his own statement, whose 
career of villainy is not closed even yet. This man has done 
several long sentences, and he is again, while I write, in 
durance. He also was a man of superior education, who could 
read off Hebrew, so the warders said, as easily as the chaplain 
gave the morning prayers. Dr. B. was discovered one day 
writing the Hebrew character in his copybook at school time, 
just when a party of distinguished visitors were inspecting the 
prison. One of them, surprised, said, "What, do you know 
Hebrew ? " 

"Yes," was the impudent reply, "I expect a great deal 
better than you do." 

A better story still is told of this man later, when set at 
large on ticket-of-leave. Through barefaced misrepresenta- 
tion he had been permitted to take the duty of a beneficed 
clergyman during his absence from the parish. In due course 
came an invitation to dine with the local magnate, whose place 


was some distance from the rectory. Oar ex-convict clergyman 
ordered a carriage and pair from the neighbouring town, and 
drove to the hall in state. As he alighted from the carriage, 
his footman, hired also for the occasion, recognised his face in 
the blaze of light from the open door. " Blow me, if that 
ain't Slimy B., the chaplain's man, who did his ' bit ' along 
with us at the ' Steel.' " Both coachman and lacquey were 
ex-convicts too, and after that the secret soon leaked out. The 
reverend doctor found his country parish rather too hot to hold 
him. His later misdeeds, as brought to light in the last year 
or two, have been decoying and plundering governesses in 
search of situations ; he has also established himself in various 
neighbourhoods as a schoolmaster, and more than once has 
again succeeded in obtaining Church duty. 

Of the military men the most prominent was a certain 
Captain C, who belonged to an excellent family, but who 
had fallen very low, going by degrees from bad to worse. 
He was long known as a notorious gambler and loose liver. 
At length, unable to earn enough money to gratify his vices 
by fair means, he sought to obtain it by foul, and became 
allied to a mob of ruffians who style themselves '''Men of the 
World.'' In other words, he took to obtaining goods under 
false pretences. Captain C. was principally useful as a 
respectable reference to whom his accomplices could apply 
when they entered a strange shop and ordered goods. '' Apply 
to my friend Captain So-and-so, of such-and-such a square; 
he has known me for years." Reference is made to a house 
gorgeously furnished, an establishment in every way hien 
monte, the master thereof a perfect gentleman. '' Do I know 

Mr. ? Oh, dear, yes ; I have known him for a long 

time. He is one of my most intimate friends. You may trust 
him to any amount." Unhappily the pitcher goes often to the 
well, but it is broken at last. And at this game of fraud the 
circle of operations grows naturally more and more narrow. 
At length the whole conspiracy became known to the police, 
and Captain C. found himself ere long in Millbank. He seems 
to have been treated there rather too well. An idle, good-for- 
nothing rascal, who would do no work, and who expected — 
so said the officers — to be always waited upon. Undoubtedly 


he was pampered, liad his books from the deputy-governor's 
own library, and extra food. More than this, his wife — a 
lady once, also of good family, but fallen with her husband to 
an abyss of infamy and depravity which made her notorious 
for wickedness even in this wicked city — was frequently 
admitted to visit him, coming always in silks and satins and 
flaunting attire, which was sadly out of keeping with her 
husband's temporary abode. 

Another ex-military ofl&cer was Mr. P., whose offence at 
the time created wide-spread indignation. This was the 
gentleman who, for some occult reason of his own, committed 
the atrocity of striking our young Queen in the face just as 
she was leaving the palace. The weapon he used was a thin 
cane, but the blow fell lightly, as the lady-in-waiting interposed. 
No explanation was offered, except that the culprit was out of 
his mind. This was the defence set up by his friends, and 
several curious facts were adduced in proof of insanity. One 
on which great stress was laid, was that he was in the habit of 
chartering a hansom to Wimbledon Common daily, where he 
amused himself by getting out and walking as fast as he 
could through the furze. But this line of defence broke down, 
and the jury found the prisoner guilty. He himself, when he 
came to Milibank, declared that he had been actuated only by 
a desire to bring disgrace on his family and belongings. In 
some way or other he had seriously disagreed with his father, 
and he took this curious means to obtain revenge. The 
wantonness of the outrage called for severe punishment, and 
Mr. P. was sentenced to seven years' transportation ; but the 
special punishment of whipping was omitted, on the grounds 
of the prisoner's position in life. Whether it was that the 
mere passing of this sentence was considered sufficient, or that 
the Queen herself interposed with gracious clemency, this Mr. 
P. at Milibank was treated with exceptional leniency and 
consideration. By order of the Secretary of State he was 
exempted from most of the restrictions by which other 
prisoners were ruled. He was not lodged in a cell, but in 
two rooms adjoining the infirmary, which he used as sitting 
and bedroom respectively ; he did not wear the prison dress, 
and he had, practically, what food he liked. He seems to 


tiave awakened a sort of sympathy on the part of the warders 
who attended him ; probably because he was a fine, tall fellow, 
of handsome presence and engaging manners, and because 
also they thought his offence was one of hot-headed rash- 
ness rather than premeditated wickedness. Eventually Mr. P. 
went to Australia. 

A good deal of attention was attracted in 1844 to certain 
frauds connected with wills. The chief offender was a 
solicitor belonging to a respectable firm, but he had accom- 
plices, and they came all of them to Millbank. The details 
of the fraud show considerable ingenuity on one side and not 
a little foolishness on the other. A certain lady. Miss Ann 
Slack, had a sum of money in the three per cents., the 
dividends on which were paid to her as she required money, 
by her guardian, who had been her father's agent. The whole 
stock was £6000, and it was kept at the Bank of England in 
two sums in her name. Presently the guardian dies, and Miss 
Slack goes to live with a married sister, continuing to receive 
her dividends, but only on one sum. Apparently she was 
quite in the dark as to the value or extent of her own pro- 
perty. Year followed year, and still she failed to claim the 
dividends due to her on the second sum, which was altogether 
forgotten. At length, after ten years had elapsed and the 
sum was still unclaimed, it was transferred in due course to 
the Commissioners for the reduction of the national debt. 

Now commenced the fraud. By some means or other the 
solicitor came to know of this transfer. He concluded, shrewdly 
enough, that the real owners of the stock so transferred had 
forgotten all about it, and he proposed, therefore, to appro- 
priate it to himself. To accomplish this he made it appear 
that Miss Slack was dead, and that she had willed the sum in 
question to Miss Emma Slack — in other words to himself. 
It was necessary that he should have the testator's signature, 
and this he obtained by calling on her at her brother-in-law's 
and pretending that money had been bequeathed to her, but 
that her signature was required before it could be handed over. 
Her name thus obtained, the other will was soon manufactured. 
A person to personate Miss Emma Slack was next procured, 
who wrote through her solicitor, claiming the money, and 

2 A 


begging it might be transferred to her name. The same 
person attended also at the Bank of England, was identified — 
by her own solicitor — and from that time forth received the- 
dividends. This was the principal offence, as far as amount 
was concerned; but in another, the guilty parties had con- 
tinued for no less than ten years to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. 
Another lady had been discovered who had left money behind 
her which no one claimed. For her, also, a false will was 
manufactured, by which she bequeathed her fortune in the 
three per cents, to her nephew Thomas Hunt. Fletcher, one 
of the culprits, appeared to personate Thomas Hunt, and as 
such received the dividends for nearly ten years. The fraud 
was discovered by an error in dates. The forgers made it out 
that Mrs. Hunt died in 1829, whereas she had died really three- 
and-twenty years previously. 

These are a few of the most prominent of the criminals 
who belonged to the upper or professional classes. Others 
there were, and are to this day ; but as a rule such cases 
are not numerous. Speaking in general terms of the 
" gentleman convict," as viewed from the gaoler^s side, he is 
an ill-conditioned, ill- conducted prisoner. When a man of 
energy and determination, he wields a baleful influence around 
and among other prisoners if proper precautions are not taken 
against inter-communications. His comrades look up to him, 
especially if he is disposed to take the place of a ringleader, 
and to put himself forward as the champion of insolence and 
insubordination. They render him too, a sort of homage in 
their way, scrupulously retaining the titles which have been 
really forfeited, if indeed they were ever earned. Mr. So-and- 
so, Major This and Captain That, are the forms of address 
used by Bill Sykes when speaking of or to a gentleman convict. 
For the rest, if not openly mutinous, these ''superior'^ felons 
are chiefly remarkable for their indifference to prison rules, 
especially those which insist on cleanliness and neatness in 
their cells. Naturally, by habits and early education they are 
unskilled in sweeping and washing, and keeping bright their 
brass-work and their pewter utensils. In these respects the 
London thief or hardened habitual criminal, who knows the 
interior of half the prisons in the country, has quite the best of it. 


Somewhat lower in tlie social scale, but superior also to tlie 
common burglar or thief, are those who occupy positions of 
trust in banks or city offices, and for whom the temptation of 
an open till or slack administration are too strong to be resisted. 
A good instance of this class was B., who was employed as a 
clerk in the Bank of England. With the assistance of a 
confederate who personated a Mr. Oxenford — there was no 
special reason for selecting this gentleman, more than there 
might be to take Mr. Smith or Jones — he made over to him- 
self stock standing in Mr. Oxenford's name to the tune of 
£8000. His accomplice was a horse jobber. The stock in 
question was paid by a cheque on LubbocVs for the whole 
sum, whither they proceeded, asking to have it cashed — all in 
gold. There were not eight thousand sovereigns available at 
the moment, but they received instead eight Bank of England 
notes for £1000 each, which they promptly changed at the 
bank for specie, taking with them a carpet-bag to hold the 
money. The bag when filled was found to be too heavy to 
lift, but with the assistance of the bank porters it was got into 
a cab. They now drove to Ben Caunt's public in St. Martin's 
Lane, and there secured a room for the night ; the money was 
transferred to their portmanteaus, several in number, and 
next morning they took an early train to Liverpool en route 
for New York. The steamer Britannia, in which they took 
passage, started almost immediately, and they soon got clear 
out of the country. But the detectives were on their track : 
within a day or two, officers followed them across the Atlantic, 
and landing at Halifax found the fugitives had gone on to 
Boston and New York. They were followed thither, and o%, 
also, to Buffalo and to Canada. Thence back again to Boston. 
Here the culprits had taken up their residence — one on a farm, 
the other in a public-house, both of which had been purchased 
with the proceeds of the fraud ; £7000 had been lodged also in 
the bank to their credit. One of them was immediately 
arrested, and hanged himself. The other escaped in a boat, 
and lay hid in the neighbouring marshes ; but the reward that 
was offered led to his capture, and he was brought home to 
England, where he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 
transportation for life. 


Within this category come also ship captains wlio betray 
their trust, like Captain T., who was sent by his owners to 
the Gold Coast for a cargo of gold dust. On the voyage home 
he carried with him a box containing gold dust to the value of 
£700. This, on arrival at Portsmouth, he declared he had 
thrown overboard when in a fit of delirium. Several of the 
crew were called upon to testify that he had been suffering 
from illness — real or feigned — and had kept his cabin several 
days, till one morning he rushed on deck apparently delirious, 
carrying a box which he then and there cast into the sea, 
shouting, " Ah ! you may kill me now — but you shan't have it 
— there ! " Unfortunately his owners were not well satisfied 
with the explanation, and on making inquiry they found that 
Captain T. had sold a quantity of gold dust to a jeweller on 
Portsmouth Hard soon after his arrival in port. He was 
accordingly arrested, when 116 lbs. of gold were found upon 
him, and a bundle of bank notes; also a belt filled with gold 
dust, which he had used apparently for smuggling his stolen 
property on shore. Captain T. was found guilty, and came to 
Millbank in due course. 

I must insert here the story of one, V. P., who was in 1853 
taken up as a convict returned before his sentence of trans- 
portation had expired. P. made out a long statement in his 
defence, which may be worth giving, as it is a sort of resume, 
from a convict's point of view, of the strange vicissitudes of a 
felon's life. It will be found in the " Sessions Papers," vol. 
1852-3, p. 428, as follows : "At the period of the offence for 
which I was convicted I was suffering from the most acute 
pecuniary distress, with a wife and large family of children. 
A series of misfortunes — the most heavy was the death of my 
second wife, by which I lost an annuity of £150, with a great 
falling off, notwithstanding all my exertions, in my occupation 
as reporter to the public press — brought about mainly the 
distress in question. Previous to the commission of the offence 
I had through life borne an irreproachable character. In early 
life, from 1818 to 1822, I held some most responsible appoint- 
ments in Jamaica and other West India Islands; from 1829 
to 1834 I held the appointment of Magistrate's Clerk and 
Postmaster at Bong Bong in New South Wales; afterwards 


was superintendent of large farms in Batliurst, over tlie Blue 
Mountains^ in the same colony. At tlie later period I had a 
wife and family of young children ; the former^ a most amiable 
partner, I had the misfortune to lose in 1838, leaving me 
with seven young children. My connections are most respect- 
able. My late father was an officer of rank, and of very 
meritorious services. My eldest brother is at present a major 
in the Eoyal Marine Corps. I was convicted in October, 1846 ; 
was three months in Millbank Penitentiary, at which period 
fears were entertained that my intellect would become impaired 
in solitary confinement ; subsequently I was three years and 
two months in the Warrior convict ship at Woolwich, during 
which period I was employed on the Government works in the 
dockyard; and was sent abroad in March, 1850. At Millbank 
and the hulks I had the best possible character, as also on my 
arrival at Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, after a passage 
of four months. On my arrival I received a ticket-of -leave, 
which I retained until I left the colony, never having forfeited 
the same for a day by any kind of insubordinate conduct. My 
motive in leaving Van Diemen's Land was to proceed to the 
gold-diggings, in the hope that I might be successful and 
better the condition of my family at home, who were in very 
impoverished circumstances ; but although my exertions were 
very great in California, Victoria, and New South Wales, I 
was unsuccessful. It is true I made, occasionally, some money; 
but I was robbed of it on the road by armed bushrangers, and 
frequently ill-used and robbed at Melbourne and Geelong by 
the worst of characters. I was shipwrecked twice, and once 
burnt out at sea : the first time in Torres Straits, between 
New Holland and New Guinea, on a reef of coral rocks. Upon 
this occasion I lost between £70 and £80 in cash, and all 
my luggage. Eleven of us only got ashore, out of a ship's 
company of twenty-seven, chiefly Lascars, Malays, and China- 
men. After thirty days' great suffering and privation we 
were picked up by an American whaler, and ultimately reached 
Sydney, New South Wales. I was subsequently wrecked in a 
brigantine called the Triton, going from Melbourne to Adelaide, 
and lost all I possessed in the world, having another very 
narrow escape of my life. In returning from San Francisco 


to Melbourne in a vessel called the White Squall, she caaght 
fire about three hundred and fifty miles from Tahiti (formerly 
called Ofcaheite). We were obliged to abandon her and take 
to the boats ; but a great number of the crew and passengers 
perished by fire and water. The survivors in the boats 
reached Tahiti in about eight days, in a state of great 
exhaustion, many of whom died from the effects of the same. 
I had the misfortune to lose nearly all I possessed upon this 
occasion. On reaching Melbourne I was very ill and went 
into the hospital. I left in about five weeks, intending to go 
again to Mount Alexander diggings ; but, owing to ill-health, 
bad state of the roads from the floods, and limited means, I 
abandoned such intention. I had a twelvemonth before been 
to Ballarat, Mount Alexander, Forest Creek, Bendigo, and 
many other diggings : but at this time no police was organised 
or gold escort troopers, consequently nearly all the unfortunate 
diggers were robbed of what they got by hordes of bush- 
rangers, well mounted, and armed with revolvers and other 
weapons to the teeth. In returning to Melbourne from Forest 
Creek the last time, I was beat, stripped, and robbed of all I 
had, in the Black Forest, about halfway between Melbourne 
and Mount Alexander. I left Melbourne in the brig Kestrel 
for Sydney, New South Wales, at which place I was acquainted 
with many respectable parties, some of whom I had known as 
far back as 1829, when I first went to Sydney with my wife 
and children. The Kestrel put in at some of the settlements 
of New Zealand, at one of which (Auckland) was lying a 
barque, bound for England, in want of hands. The tempta- 
tion was great to reach my dear family, for which I had 
mourned ever since I met with my misfortune. I shipped 
myself as ordinary seaman and assistant steward. We left 
the settlement in July, with a miserably crippled ship^s 
company, and made a very severe passage round Cape Horn, 
in the winter season, which carried away masts, sails, rigging, 
boats, bulwarks, stanchions, etc., etc. Some of the crew were 
lost with the yards, and most of us were frostbitten. We put 
into Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America, to refit and pro- 
vision. We proceeded on our passage, crossed the equator, 
touched at Funchal — one of the Azores — for two days, and 


readied England in September, after a severe passage of four 
months and twenty-six days from New Zealand. Under all 
the circumstances of my present unhappy condition, I humbly 
hope the legislature will humanely consider the long, severe, 
and various descriptions of punishment I have undergone since 
my conviction. I would also most respectfully call the 
attention of the authorities to the fact, that the offence for 
which I have so severely suffered was the first deviation from 
strict rectitude during my life ; and that I have never since, 
upon any occasion whatever, received a second sentence even 
of the most minor description. It was only required of me by 
the then regulation of the service, that I should serve five years 
upon the public works at Woolwich. On my embarkation for 
Van Diemen's Land I had done three years and four months : 
if I had completed the remainder twenty months I should 
have been discharged from the dockyard a free man. I also 
humbly beg to state, at the time I left Van Diemen's Land, 
six years after my conviction, I was entitled by the regula- 
tions of the service to a conditional pardon, which would have 
left me at liberty to leave the colony without further restraint. 
I beg to state that during the period of three years and four 
months I was at ^the hulks I worked in all the gangs in the 
dockyard. Upon several occasions I received severe injuries, 
some of which requiring me to be sent to the hospital ship. 
I was ruptured by carrying heavy weights, the effect of which 
I have frequently felt since, and do to the present day. 
During the two periods when the cholera raged in the hulks, 
I attended upon the sick at the hospital ships. I humbly 
implore the Government will have compassion upon me for 
the sake of my numerous and respectable family, for my great 
mental and bodily sufferings since my conviction, and for my 
present weakly, worn-out, debilitated state of health, and award 
me a mild sentence. Daring my captivity and absence my 
unfortunate wife has suffered from great destitution, and 
buried two of her children. She is again bereaved of me in a 
distressed condition with her only surviving child, a little girl 
of ten years of age.^^ 

This man was set at large without punishment. 

The case of the Frenchman, Dalmas, should not be omitted 


here, not only because lie was above the degree of a common 
criminal, but because it was an early instance of how nearly 
the ends of justice may be defeated when doctors differ as to 
soundness or unsoundness of mind. Dalmas was a Frenchman, 
long resident in England, a clever, intelligent man, a linguist, 
and an excellent chemical operative. He was employed at 
some chemical works near Battersea; but, on one occasion, 
through family dissensions, he ran away from home. His 
daughters, thus deserted, found a friend in a Mrs. Macfarlane. 
By-and-by Dalmas reappeared, and his wife having died in 
the interval, he showed his gratitude by offering marriage 
to Mrs. Macfarlane. Her friends, however, dissuaded her 
strongly from the match, and Dalmas was much annoyed, 
although he continued on the surface to retain, amicable 
relations with her. One evening the two, Dalmas and Mrs. 
Macfarlane, went with one of Dalmas' daughters to "a 
place " which had been obtained for her through the kind- 
ness of the latter. The two elders left the girl at the house 
about half-past eight at night, and they were afterwards 
seen together at Battersea Bridge. Mrs. Macfarlane was 
heard protesting that she could not remain out all night. 
Nothing more was positively known till Mr. Perkins, a silver- 
smith, crossing the bridge, was followed by a woman, reeling 
and staggering in her walk, who asked him to conduct her to 
the toll-house. This was Mrs. Macfarlane. Presently she 
fell to the ground, and it was found that her throat was cut — 
a terrible gash, extending from the trachea to the right side 
of the spinal chord, which must have been done with some 
very sharp instrument. Dalmas surrendered, and was found 
guilty, but respited on the ground of insanity. Here began- 
the conflict of medical testimony. However, it was decided 
to remove him to Millbank for an extended observation, and 
this ended in a second report corroborating the madness. 
From Millbank he passed on to Bethlehem Hospital (" Bed- 
lam "), but in the eight months following he showed no symp- 
toms of madness at all. Accordingly he was again sent to 
Millbank by order of the Secretary of State, and eventually 
went to the antipodes. 

There were many other criminals who came in these days. 


to Millbauk who belonged at least to tlie aristocracy of crime, 
if not to the great world. Some of them, to use their own 
language, were quite top sawyers in the trade. None in this 
way was more remarkable than old Cauty, who was called the 
'^ father of all the robbers," Few men were better known in 
his- time and in his own line than Cauty. He was to be seen 
on every race course, and he was on friendly terms with all 
the swells on the turf. He had a large acquaintance also 
among such of the ^^ best " people in town as were addicted to 
gambling on a large scale. He was in early life a croupier or 
marker at several West-end hells; but as he advanced in 
years he extended his operations beyond the Atlantic, and 
often made voyages by the West Indian packets. He liked 
to meet Mexicans and rich Americans ; they were always 
ready to gamble, and as Cauty travelled with confederates, 
whose expenses he paid, he seldom lost money on the cards. 

These, however, were his open avocations. Under the 
rose for many years he devoted all his abilities and his ex- 
perience to planning extensive bank robberies, which were 
devised generally with so much ingenuity, and carried out 
with so much daring, that a long time elapsed before the 
culprits could be brought to justice. He had many dexterous 
associates. Their commonest plan of action was to hang about 
a bank till they saw some one enter whom they thought likely 
to answer their purpose. They followed and waited till the 
victim, having opened his pocket-book, or produced his 
cheque, was paid his money over the counter. At that moment 
a button dropped, or a slight push, which was followed by 
immediate apology, took off attention, and in that one instant 
the money or a part of it was gone — passed from hand to 
hand, and removed at once from the building. 

Cauty came to grief at last. Of course he was known 
to the police, but the difficulty was to take him red-handed. 
The opportunity arrived when, with an accomplice, he 
made an attempt to rob the cashier of the London and 
Westminster Bank of his box. They were both watched in 
and out of the bank in St. James's Square day after day. 
The police kept them constantly in sight, and the cashier 
himself was put on his guard. The latter admitted that the 


casTi-box was at times left unavoidably within the reach of 
dishonest people, and that it contained property sometimes 
worth £100,000 or more. But if the police were patient in 
the watch they set, the thieves were equally patient in waiting 
for a chance. Once at the moment of fruition they were just 
" sold " by the appearance of a police-sergeant, who came in 
to change a cheque. But at length, almost like a conjurer does 
a trick, they accomplished their purpose. Cauty went in the 
bank first, carrying a rather suspicious-looking black bag. 
Three minutes afterwards he came out without it, and raised 
his hat three times, which was the signal '' all right " to his 
accomplice. The latter, Tyler, a returned convict, thereupon 
entered the bank in his turu, and almost immediately brought 
away the bag. The two worthies were allowed to go without 
let or hindrance as far as the Haymarket, and then secured. 
The black bag was opened — inside was the cash-box. 

This brought Cauty's career to an end. He got twenty 
years, and then it came out how extensive was the business he 
had done. Through his hands had passed not a little of the 
'* swag " * in all the principal robberies of the day — all the 
gold from the gold-dust robberies, all the notes and bills 
stolen from big banking houses. It was said that in this way 
he had touched about half-a-million of money. 

Some years afterwards another leader and prince in the 
world of crime was unearthed in the person of a Jew — Moses 
Moses — whose head-quarters were in Gravel Lane, Hounds- 
ditch, and who was discovered to be a gigantic receiver of 
stolen goods. He was only detected by accident. A quantity 
of wool was traced to his premises, and these were thereupon 
rigorously examined. In lofts and so forth, and other hiding- 
places, were found vast heaps of missing property. Much was 
identified as the product of recent burglaries. There was 
leather in large quantities, plush also, cloth and jewellery. A 
waggon-load of goods was, it was said, taken away, and in it 
pieces of scarlet damask, black and crimson cloth, doeskin, 
silver articles, and upwards of fifty rings. An attempt was 
made to prove that Moses was new to the business, and had 

* " Swag " is the proceeds, in cash or otherwise, of any felonious 


been led astray by the wicked advice and example of another 
man. But the Recorder would not believe that operations of 
this kind could be carried on by a novice or a dupe, and he 
sentenced Mr. Moses to transportation for fourteen years. 

For unblushing effrontery and insolence, so to speak, in 
criminal daring, the case of King, the police-officer and 
detective, is almost without parallel. Although supposed to 
be a thief-taker by profession, he was really an instigator and 
supporter of crime. He formed by degrees a small gang of 
pickpockets, and employed them to steal for him, giving them 
full instruction and ample advice. He took them to the best 
hunting-grounds, and not only covered them while at work, 
but gave them timely warning in case of danger, or if the 
neighbourhood became too hot to hold them. His pupils were 
few in number, but they were industrious and seemingly 
highly successful. One boy stated his earnings at from £90 
to £100 a week. King was a kind and liberal master to his 
boys. They lived on the fat of the land. Reeves, who gave 
information of the system pursued by King, said he had a 
pony to ride in the park, and that they all went to theatres 
and places of amusement whenever they pleased. The rascally 
ingenuity of King in turning to his own advantage his oppor- 
tunities as an officer of the law savours somewhat of Vidocq 
and the escrocs of Paris. King got fourteen years. 

But the most notorious prisoners in Millbank were not 
always to be found on the "male side." Equally famous 
in their own way were some of the female convicts — women 
like Alice Grey, whose career of imposture at the time attracted 
great attention, and was deservedly closed by committal to 
Millbank on a long sentence of transportation. Alice Grey 
was a young lady of artless appearance and engaging manners. 
Her favourite form of misconduct was to bring false charges 
against unfortunate people who had never seen her in their 
lives. Thus, she accused two boys of snatching a purse from 
her hand in the street, and when a number were paraded for 
her inspection • she readily picked out the offenders. "Her 
evidence was so ingenuous,^' says the report, " that her story 
was implicitly believed, and the boys were remanded for 
trial." As a sort of compensation to Miss Grey (her real name 


was "Brazil," but slie liad several — among others, Anastasia 
Haggard, Felicia Macarthy, Jane Tureau, Agnes Hemans, etc.) 
slie was given a good round sum from the poor-box. But she 
was not always so successful. She was sentenced to thx-ee 
months in Dublin for making a false charge, and eighteen 
months soon afterwards at Greenock. At Stafford she accused 
a poor working-man of stealing her trunk, value £8; but 
when put into the box she was taxed with former mistakes 
of this kind, whereupon she showed herself at once in her true 
colours and reviled every one present in a long tirade of abuse. 
Her cleverness was, however, sufficient to have made her 
fortune if she had turned her talents to honest account. 

There was more dash about women like Louisa M. or 
Emily L. The former drove up to Hunt and Roskell's in her 
own carriage to look at some bracelets. They were for Lady 
Campbell, and she was Miss Constance Browne. Her bankers 
were Messrs. Cocks and Biddulph. Finally she selected 
bracelets and head ornaments to the value of £2500, These 
were to be brought to her house that evening by two assistants 
from the shop, who accordingly called at the hour named. 
The door was opened by a page. "Pray walk upstairs." 
Miss Browne walks in. " The bracelets ? Ah, I will take 
them up to Lady Campbell, who is confined to her room. 
The head assistant demurred a little, but Miss Browne said, 
" Surely you know my bankers ? I mentioned them to-day. 
Messrs. Hunt and Roskell have surely satisfied themselves ? " 
With that the jewels were taken upstairs. Half an hour 
passes. One assistant looks at the other.- Another half-hour. 
What does it mean ? One rings the bell. No answer. The 
other tries the door. It is locked. Then, all at once dis- 
covering the trap, they both throw up the window and call in 
the police. They are released, but the house is empty. 
Pursuit, however, is set on foot, and Miss Constance Browne 
is captured the same night in a second class carriage upon the 
Great Western Railway, and when searched she was found to 
have on her a quantity of diamonds, a £100 note, rings and 
jewellery of all sorts, including the missing bracelets. She 
had laid her plans well. The house — which was Lady Camp- 
bell's — she had hired furnished, that day, paying down the 


£rst instalment of £42. The page she had engaged and fitted 
with livery also that very day, and the moment he had shown 
up the jeweller's men she had sent him to the Strand with a 
note. Here was cleverness superior to that of Alice Grey. 

Probably Emily L. carried off the palm from both. As 
an adroit and daring thief she has had few equals.* She is 
described as a most affable, ladylike, fascinating woman, well 
educated, handsome, and of pleasing address. She could win 
almost any one over. The shopmen fell at her feet, so to 
speak, when she alighted from her brougham and condescended 
to enter and give her orders. She generally assumed the title 
of Countess L., but her chief associate and ally was a certain 
James P., who was a lapidary by trade, an excellent judge of 
jewels, and a good looking respectable young fellow — to all 
appearance — besides. They were long engaged in a series of 
jewel robberies on a large scale, but escaped detection. Fate 
overtook them at last, and they were both arrested at the 
same time. One charge was for stealing a diamond locket, 
value £2000, from Mr. Emanuel, and a diamond bracelet worth 
£600 from Hunt and Roskell. At the same moment there 
cropped up another charge of stealing loose diamonds in Paris 
to the tune of £10,000. Emily was sentenced to four years, 
and from the moment she entered prison she resolved to give 
all the trouble she could. Her conduct at Millbank and at 
prison, to which she passed, was atrocious ; and had the 
discipline been less severe she would probably have rivalled 
some of the ill-conducted women to whom I referred in a 
previous chapter. But at the expiration of her sentence she 
returned to her evil ways, outside. Brighton was the scene of 
her next misfortune. She there entered a jeweller's shop, 
and having put him quite off his guard by her insinuating 
manners, stole £1000 worth from under his nose, and while 
he was actually in conversation with her. The theft was not 
discovered till she was just leaving Brighton. Apprehended 
at the station, she indignantly denied the charge, asserting 
that she was a lady of high rank, and offering bail to any 
amount. But she was detained, and a London detective 

* She was seen in 1875 in her carriage, in a crowded thoroughfare, 
by one of the Millbank female officers. 


having been called in, slie was at once identified. For this 
she got seven years, and was sent to Millbank once more. 
This extraordinary woman, notwithstanding the vigorous 
examination to which all incoming prisoners are subjected, 
succeeded in bringing in with her a number of valuable 
diamonds. But they were subsequently discovered in spite of 
the strange steps she took to secrete them. 

Some of the names with which I shall close this chapter 
are so well known that it is useless to attempt disguise. Agar, 
'' Jim the Penman," "Velvet Ned," Poole, Pullinger, Eedpath, 
Robson — the particular felonies of which these criminals were 
guilty are still fresh, no doubt, in the minds of many. But 
I cannot omit them from the Millbank calendar, as they were 
certainly not the least notorious of those who passed through 
the prison. 

"Velvet Ned^' was one of the greatest and most successful 
cracksmen in England. *It was he, with Scottie Brown and 
Caisley, who broke open the iron safe at the shop of Mr. 
Walker the watchmaker. This was a case that created some 
excitement at the time, because Mr. Walker brought an action 
against the patentees of the safe. They had certified that it 
must take at least eleven hours and a half to break it open : a 
statement altogether ridiculed by " Velvet Ned," who when 
in custody declared he had opened it — and could any other — 
in less than a couple of hours. Caisley was the " approver," 
who turned Queen's evidence and gave the judge full informa- 
tion how the job was done. As it needed much hammering 
and wedging, and there was a policeman on the beat close by, 
it was necessary to watch for his approach to knock off work.. 
Caisley was on the roof, and as he heard the footsteps of the- 
policeman he rang a bell which communicated with the room 
in which the safe was. These prisoners when at Millbank 
were supposed to have several thousands to their credit in 
various banks, but in other names. In their days a felon^s 
property was confiscated, and to preserve it the greatest 
caution was required. 

Never, perhaps, was such unrivalled patience and ingenuity 
devoted to a base end as in the robbery of bullion upon the 
South Eastern Railway in 1855. All attempts to unravel the 


mystery were quite unsuccessful. It was known that the gold 
had been abstracted between Boulogne and Paris, and that was 
all. The boxes from which it had been stolen were iron- 
bound, locked and deposited in iron safes, also locked with 
patent Chubbs. The keys of both box and safe had been 
throughout in the hands of confidential officials, and the boxes 
themselves had been conveyed in the guard's van. Probably 
the secret would have remained hidden for ever, but for the 
meanness of one of the accomplices. 

In 1855 a man named Agar was tried and sentenced to 
" life " for forgery — after a certain term at Millbank, he went 
thence to Pentonville, and on to Portland. While at Portland 
he heard by letter that his wife and child were in distress^ 
although at the time of his conviction one Pierce, an ally in 
various undertakings, had promised to provide for them. 
Enraged against Pierce, Agar came forward and confessed 
voluntarily that he and Pierce, with two others, were the men 
who had stolen the bullion two years before. Agar's evidence 
was most circumstantial and graphic. Pierce, who was ticket- 
porter, had originally proposed the robbery, but Agar would 
not agree, thinking it impracticable. He said, however, if 
impressions of the keys could be obtained he would carry out 
the job. Some time elapsed ; the matter was dropped, then 
reopened. At length Pierce and Agar went down to Folke- 
stone, took lodgings, and devoted themselves to watching the 
trains in and out. They did this so constantly that they them- 
selves were at length watched by the police, and they had to 
leave the town. But Agar had noticed the arrival and depar- 
ture of the bullion, and on one occasion had seen the chest 
opened. A clerk came with the keys, which he afterwards 
deposited in the cash till. Agar therefore returned a little 
later to Folkestone, and tried to make friends with this clerk ; 
but all to no purpose. He was " a very sedate young man,^' 
who would not be seduced from his allegiance. At length 
Agar and Pierce managed to get into the railway office one 
day, while the clerks were absent, and took impressions in wax 
of the keys. 

Two others were in the " swim." Burgess, one of the 
guards, and Tester, who was station-master at Dover. It was 


arranged tliat Agar sliould go down several times with, bullion 
in the van witli Burgess, so as to try the false keys. He did 
go — seven or eight times before he could get them to work. 
But at length, when all was ready, they prepared a number of 
bags of shot, and went to the station more than once when 
Burgess was guard. At length one night he gave the signal, 
wiping his face as they passed. Bullion was to go down that 
night. Tester and Pierce took tickets. Agar waited on the 
platform till the train was in motion, then jumped into the 
guard^s van, and Burgess covered him with bis apron. Agar 
soon set to work. Opening one safe, he extracted a wooden 
box, sealed, and fastened with iron bands and nails. This he 
broke into and took from it four bars of gold, replacing by 
shot the precious metal. The gold itself was put into a bag 
and handed out to Tester at Reigate, who returned with it to 
London. The next box Agar opened contained American 
gold coins ; the third, small bars of gold. Just as much of 
each was removed as they had shot to make up weight with. 
The safes were taken out at Folkestone, but Agar and Pierce 
went on to Dover. Here they had supper, and then went back 
to London by the 2 a.m. train, carrying with them two carpet 
bags " that appeared to be particularly heavy.^' The gold, 
which was in value about £12,000, was all melted down at 
Agar's house in Shepherd^s Bush, and part of the ingots 
disposed of. Pierce, Tester, and Agar got each £600, Burgess 
£700. Tester and Burgess were sentenced to fourteen years' 
transportation, and Pierce to two years' imprisonment. Agar 
soon afterwards went to Australia. The others did their 
" time " between Millbank and Portland, and were eventually 
released on ticket-of -leave at home. 

A more serious robbery than this had occurred some years 
previously on the Great Western Railway, also through the 
connivance of the guard. At that time the mail bags were 
carried in the guard's van. This was well known, and a plan 
■was accordingly concocted in London to rob the mail on its 
journey. One of the guards. P., was enticed to join ; and a 
first-class thief, one Nightingale, a shrewd active fellow, was 
sent down from town by the swell mob to carry out the 
robbery. A third man, Warrup, a mere tool, was called in to 


assist. Niglitingale and Warrup having called tickets in the 
usual way, passed along the train while it was in motion till 
they got to the guard's van. There P. was waiting for them, 
and all three fell forthwith upon the mail bags, from which 
letters, containing money and other securities, were abstracted 
to the value it was said of nearly a million of money. As soon 
as the robbery was completed, P. had the train slackened to 
allow his accomplices to jump down and make off across 
country with their booty. All three were, however, eventually 
apprehended, and sentenced to long terms of transporta- 

P. was removed later on from Millbank to Bermuda, where 
he distinguished himself greatly during an epidemic of yellow 
fever, during which the hulks were decimated and hundreds of 
both officers and convicts were swept away. P., at a time 
when others feared to go near the sick, had, singlehanded and 
alone, the charge of two whole shiploads. For his courage 
and devotion he was specially pardoned and returned to 
England. I believe he is now doing well somewhere in the 
west country. 

I will close the chapter with a short account of Saward, 
or " Jem the Penman,'^ who was long considered by the 
swell mob as one of the most useful men in London. He was 
the master mind of a gang of forgers who committed great 
depredations before they were discovered. He had been 
called to the bar and was an excellent scholar, besides which 
he was endowed with great intelligence and ingenuity of 
mind. Whenever blank cheques fell into the hands of burglars 
they were passed on into Saward's hands to be if possible 
made use of. It was Saward's business to ascertain who kept 
accounts at the various banks for which the cheques were 
valid, and the amounts which might safely be drawn. He had 
also to provide the necessary signatures. There were many 
methods of obtaining them ; but a favourite one was to call on 
a solicitor and beg of him to recover a debt from Mr. So-and- 
so. By-and-by Mr. So-and-so paid his bill, and the solicitor 
jpassed the money on to his client by cheque. Clumsiness on 

2 B 


tlie part o£ one of his agents, wlio applied to three different 
sohcitors at the same time with the same story, led first to- 
suspicion and then to full discovery. Saward at Millbank 
looked like a common drunken sot, hut he conducted himself 
fairly well in prison. 

A "big" ckiminal. 



Old prison officers have often remarked to me that there is a 
great deterioration in the physique of convicts^ taking them 
as a class. On this point doctors differ. Many prison medical 
men support the theory ; on the other hand, Dr. Guy's ex- 
haustive statistics are opposed to it.* Nevertheless, the 
fact remains that one type of criminal who was once constantly 
to be met with in our convict prisons is seldom seen now. I 

* Eesults of the Censuses of Convict Prisons in England for 1862 and 
1873, by Wm. A. Guy, M.B, In a preface to this pamphlet Colonel Da 
Cane, C.B., R.E., remarks : " It is curious to find that the opinion so 
generally expressed bymedical oflBcers of prisons and others, that the male 
convicts are less physically able-bodied than in former years, is not at all 
borne out by these statistics. Some difi"erence, in fact, of the present con- 
dition in that respect is no doubt due to the retention in this country of 
able-bodied men who were at the time of the last census transported, 
but transportation had been very limited for some years previous to the 
last census." 

2 B 2 


allude to tlie burly, brawny scoundreL well built, strong and 
able, to whom crimes of atrocious violence were as child's play. 
That ruffians of this class exist to the present day we have 
evidence just now in the criminal records of some of the 
northern counties ; but as the law is at present administered, 
these clog-kickers and wife-beaters are not generally consigned 
to the Government prisons.* It may be that the new race is 
not as the old was ; or, more probably, under modern prison 
management the criminal class do not thrive to the same 
extent. But at Millbank, in the days of which I write, there 
were many fine specimens of this now rarer criminal. One 
ward was especially filled with them. These were half of them 
murderers ; some of them had even a second sentence of " life " 
recorded against them. The discipline to which these men 
were subjected was not of a kind to keep them in proper 
subordination. They were petted, and persuaded, and made 
much of. Anything that might annoy or irritate them by 
word or deed was most scrupulously avoided. It was " please " 
here, and "please^"' there, to which the only answer was a 
curse, and often as not a distinct negative or refusal. Several 
of these men were afterwards leaders in the revolt at Gibraltar, 
when the deputy-governor was stabbed. A prominent figure 
in this mob was Mark Jeffries, a tall Irishman, six feet and 
more in height, who was the terror of nearly all the officers 
who came near him. He was a most uncultivated, savage 
scoundrel, who refused to obey orders or submit to any 
discipline at all. If he was in his cell and wanted anything, 
he simply kicked for half an hour at his door with the toe of 
his hob-nailed boot, disdaining altogether the use of a signal 
stick.f If it was necessary to take him before the governor 
or to the board-room, half-a-dozen officers were hardly strong 
enough for the task. They were all afraid of him; many 
indeed carried knives to defend themselves against his brutal 

* But I believe that quite lately several offenders of this class have 
been sentenced to penal servitude. One of them died in Millbank, in 
the early part of 1875, by his own hand. 

t A narrow slit in the wall of a Millbank cell allows the passage of 
a thin " signal stick," by which means the ward oflBcer's attention is 
called to the wants of any particular prisoner. 


violence. Hardly inferior in coarse ferocity was George 
Talmage, a Manchester man, who was famed for his skill in 
" putting on tlie crook " — a practice older in criminal traditions 
than that of garroting, but quite as effectual. The present 
plan, I am told, is to put a thumb on each side of the victim's 
head behind his ear, and press his jugular vein till he becomes 
unconscious. " Putting on the crook " is performed by 
throwing the left arm round the neck of some unsuspecting 
person, bringing the left knee into the small of his backhand then 
pulling back his head by the hair with the hand that is free. 
While this treatment is in progress by one from behind, others 
work in front and rifle the victim's pockets. If held too long 
in this position, death of course ensues. Talmage was a great 
professor in this line of business : he was a short, stout man, 
of immense strength, with a large head and a thick neck like 
a bulFs, and his grip was not to be got away from easily. 
Still he declared he had never murdered any one ; that is to 
say, he had never beaten out anybody's brains. But he had 
choked four — by pure accident of course. He had held them 
a little too long in the crook, but " that wasn't like murder, oh 
dear no ! " Talmage had worked chiefly in the country, and 
his victims were generally people returning from market with 
the proceeds of their sales in their pockets. 

In his way, Isaacs the Jew, who went at the time by the 
alias of Fletcher, and who murdered warder Hall in Millbank, 
November, 1849, was quite as great a ruffian as any to whom 
I have referred. Isaacs was comparatively young. At the time of 
the murder he was little more than twenty-five or twenty-six — a 
stout-built, red-haired youth, who had been a thief from infancy, 
and who had been already once or twice at the hulks. He 
was always badly behaved, and was continually under punish- 
ment at Millbank. One day he said openly to an officer, '^ I'll 
murder some one, and soon." " Well, why not me ? " replied 
the officer. " No, no ; you're too big, and I've known you 
too long." Time passed, and Isaacs' threat was forgotten. 
By-and-by he came to be under the control of warder Hall, 
a mild, easy-going fellow, who had once been a publican, 
but who had no idea of dealing with such desperate villains 
as Isaacs. He treated the prisoner always with the utmost 


leniency, but there was no sucli feeling as gratitude in the 
breast of Isaacs, and he resolved to do for Hall. He got his 
opportunity when out of his cell one morning emptying his 
basin. Hall was stooping down over a writing-desk, making 
an entry in one of the ward-books. Without a moment's 
warning Isaacs rushed on Hall and knocked him down with 
the basin. Hall was stunned by the fall, and while thus 
helpless, Isaacs battered out his brains, long before help could 

It was of course taken for granted that Isaacs would be 
inevitably hanged. But he escaped on the plea of lunacy. 
Even before his trial came off, so say the traditions of the 
place, he seemed to know that he would escape capital 
punishment. Some one went to see him in his cell on the day 
of poor HalFs funeral. " Do you hear them tolling the bell 
for poor Hall ? You'll be hanged for this, Isaacs. " I shan't 
— not I," said Isaacs. " The Eabbi was here last night. 
He'll get me off. There hasn't been a Jew hanged this 
hundred years." Rightly or wrongly, Isaacs did in effect 
escape the extreme penalty of the law. He was found guilty, 
but respited as insane, and removed to Bedlam, where they 
kept him, so it was said, in an iron cage for a couple of years. 
Within a month or two another and a similar attack was 
made upon an unsuspecting officer, but happily without fatal 
results. The warder showed fight and defended himself till 
help arrived, but he was none the less severely mauled. 

Other men of this savage character were to be found 
in plenty in those days at Millbank. There was Elijah 
Bullick, who travelled to and fro between Millbank and 
Pentonville, Dartmoor, Portland, and the hulks, and was 
found incorrigible in all. On one occasion, at Millbank, 
he struck an officer in the face in the middle of divine 
service. Edward Grey was no better. He, too, was moved 
from one prison to another, but could be tamed in none. 
Eventually his career of violence was brought to an end by 
his death, of which he was himself the cause. Climbing- 
up to look out of the window when in a refractory cell, 
he strained himself so badly that death ensued. Death had 
been recorded against Michael Henry, for attempting to 


murder an oflELcer in Exeter gaol ; but lie came to Millbank 
with a commuted sentence of transportation for life. Here 
his conduct continued throughout desperate in the extreme. 
Soon after his arrival he made a second and nearly successful 
attempt on the life of one of the prison officers. He then 
passed on to Gibraltar, where he was the terror of all who 
came near him. For a third attempt at murder he was tried 
for his life, and sentenced a second time to the extreme 
penalty of the law. But he again escaped, and was sent back 
to Millbank, where he remained for many years. The case of 
John Gough was nearly parallel. He went from prison to 
prison, fighting, slashing, and trying to murder every one he 
could. For an attempt to murder an officer at Dartmoor he 
was sentenced to death at Exeter, but returned instead to 
Millbank. This prisoner's conduct was so atrocious that it 
would have been quite inexplicable except on the grounds of 
madness. He was subject, it appeared, to fits of maniacal 
rage, at which times it took several men to hold him and 
prevent him from tearing the flesh off his hands with his 
teeth. Gough left prison in 1874. 

The gang known as the Uckfield burglars was also a 
product of these times. This was an admirably planned 
organisation for evil, and while it lasted it was strangely 
powerful. The year 1851 was remarkable for the number and 
atrocity of its burglaries. It was at this period that the 
Frimley murder was perpetrated by burglars, who were, 
however, captured; but those at Uckfield got off scot-free — 
at least, if they were lodged at Millbank it was not for this 
particular offence. Their operations were extensive. For a long 
time they kept three counties — Surrey, Sussex, and Kent — in 
constant dread. Their most daring act was breaking into a house 
near Lewes, inhabited by certain maiden ladies. The night was 
dark and tempestuous, and under cover of the storm they 
broke into the dairy through a lattice window, thence to the 
cellar, and so to the kitchen. After that the gang divided 
into two parts. One half attacked the man-servant, the other 
proceeded to rouse the old ladies. The butler showed fight, 
but he was disarmed and forced to confess where the plate 
was kept. In the same way the ladies were terrified into 


giving up all their valuables. These ruffians were disguised 
in masks of black crape^ and they were all armed with either 
staves or pistols. The ramifications of the confederacy were 
wide. It embraced a number of stationary accomplices, who 
worked as shoemakers, basketmakers, and so forth. The spies 
trudged about in the guise of hawkers, or simply as tramps. 
In all cases the will of the captain was supreme ; mutiny was 
punished by death, and so were cowardice and desertion from 
the colours of the corps. 

The transition seems complete from such stalwart ruffians 
who made a capital of their strength, to cripples like Mason,, 
the man known as " the devil on two sticks,^^ or " Cratchy ^' 
Jones. But the latter, though maimed and halt, were not 
disabled, and in their own way they did quite as much mis- 
chief in prison or out. Mason was an experienced thief, but 
he was chiefly notorious for his persistent misconduct in 
prison. He was so fluent of speech that he possessed extra- 
ordinary weight among his comrades, and could persuade 
•them almost to anything. He was full of tricks and artful 
dodges. At one time he had followed the calling of a sheriff's 
officer; and he used to recount with pride his success in 
serving writs. None of these was better executed than the 
one in which he made friends with the debtor's dog, putting 
at length the writ into its mouth. The little animal trotted 
confidently into his master's house, and gave the writ into his- 
hands, as he had been taught to do with other things. Of 
course the writ was actually served. Mason was paralysed 
in his lower limbs, but still was dangerously active, and if 
thwarted or out of temper he stopped at nothing. On one 
occasion he sharpened the point of a pair of scissors, and took 
post near the chapel door, meaning to stab the governor just 
as he entered his pew. But he was detected before any ill: 
consequences ensued. Mason eventually died of poison. He 
had been given some belladonna ointment for outward appli- 
cation ; he took it internally, hoping thereby to make himself 
ill enough to be taken into hospital. But he swallowed too 
much, with fatal results. 

"^Crutchy'' Jones first came to Millbank twenty-five years 
ago, when quite a lad. He is there now,, as I am writing these 


lines^ doing his fourtli or fifth sentence, under the name of 
McQuinnj which is, I believe, his proper designation. Watches 
were the rock on which he split. He is said to be one of the 
best judges of a watch in England; and at his last affair, 
when taken red-handed with one which he had but just re- 
moved from a gentleman's fob, Crutchy declared that he only- 
borrowed the watch for a moment to look at the works. All 
his convictions were for stealing watches : sometimes working 
alone, sometimes in company with others. His speed on his 
crutch was quite remarkable : though crippled he could run 
faster than most men using both their legs, and he could 
climb a pole against any acrobat or sailor in the world. He 
is really a genius in his way. While at Dartmoor, to which 
place he was sent from Millbank, he invented an apparatus for 
cutting turf, which had in it all the elements of success, had 
it had a fair trial. Another of his schemes was a patent for 
raising sunken ships. He was really without education. What 
he knows of reading and writing he has picked up in prison. 
Inside he is famous as a prison lawyer, and will argue by the 
hour — if allowed — the rights and wrongs of himself and his 
fellow-prisoners. One of his favourite amusements when in 
a punishment cell at Dartmoor, was to go through his trial at 
the Old Bailey from beginning to end. He could mimic the 
voice of the judge ; would give the counsels' speeches and the 
cross-examination in extenso, and to the life. 

A more painful phase of human nature is to be found in 
the insane criminals, with whom Millbank has at times had 
plenty to do. For years the prison has been the receptacle of 
all convicts who become insane during their imprisonment. A 
distinction must be drawn between these and offenders found 
on arraignment of unsound mind, together with those actually 
tried but acquitted on grounds of insanity, all of whom are then 
and there ordered to be kept in a criminal lunatic asylum dur- 
ing the Queen's pleasure. The Millbank lunatics are sane when 
sentenced ; mental aberration has not shown itself till after 
they have been consigned to prison. But feigned insanity is no 
new wile with convicts, and to , guard against imposture, all 
who betray symptoms of this kind are thereupon removed to 
Millbank for "further observation.'^ A second medical 


opinion is thus obtained upon the case o£ eacTi — a matter 
of no slight importance ; and, by thus bringing the lunatics 
together in a body under one system and one supervision, 
increased facilities are gained for dealing with them singly or 
in the aggregate. 

But for these reasons there are at times a large proportion 
of insane prisoners temporarily at Millbank. Taken in con- 
nection with the Millbank population, this proportion has 
often appeared extraordinarily large, and certain theorists 
have found therein a peg on which to hang an unfair com- 
parison between lunacy and crime. As Millbank got all 
lunatics from all Government prisons, the ratio should have 
been struck — not against the 1100 that Millbank held, but 
against the total prison population of seven or eight thousand 

It may be taken for granted, of course, that all the 
common cases, such as are seen at ordinai-y asylums, would 
be found also among criminal lunatics. But the latter have 
certain peculiarities of their own. I do not refer merely to 
such curious vagaries as the consumption of pebbles, blankets, 
and gutta-percha pint-pots, which these men have been 
known to eat in great quantities,* but to certain special 
phases of insanity to which criminals appear alone liable. 
Although the whole subject is somewhat too painful to be 
treated otherwise than in sober seriousness, some of the cases 
seen at Millbank are too curious to be altogether omitted 
from these pages. I propose, therefore, to enlarge upon 
sundry of the groups into which criminal lunatics may be 
divided. Among such may be mentioned strange forms of 
delusion, of hallucinations, of religious mania, of exaggerated 
destructive tendencies, of curious attempts at suicide, and last 
of all, of persistent feigning, ending at length in real insanity. 

Criminal lunatics probably sujQter more than any from 
delusions in various forms. Prominent among these are 
mistaken notions of ill-usage. For instance, numbers are 

* One prisoner swallowed pebble after pebble, as fast as a man eats 
peas, till be got 4 lbs. o£ stones inside bim. Another preferred blankets, 
which he tore up into bits six inches square, to his regular diet. This 
man made nothing of a pound of candles if he could get them. 


possessed witli an invincible suspicion tliat tlieir food lias 
been poisoned. To combat this they are allowed to choose 
their own from a group of a dozen or more tea-cans and 
dinner-tins; but even then they are hardly satisfied. Of 
course, the fact of their taking this supposed fatal food for 
weeks and months together, without the least harm to them- 
selves, is not a sufficient argument to them as it would be to 
others. No matter what measures are taken to convince them, 
they return persistently to the charge. One says his food 
does him no good and barely keeps him alive — " no wonder, 
when there are flies put in it." He feels certain that the 
doctors have combined together to murder him, so he puts his 
finger down his throat to see what there is on his chest. If 
he could only muster up courage he would murder the doctor, 
and so save dozens of lives. They might take him to the 
gallows ; but so much the better — the truth would come out. 
He declared at another time the doctor was only keeping him 
to make a living lantern of him — till he is so reduced in flesh 
that people can see through his side with the naked eye. The 
doctor will then publish what he sees for the instruction of 
students, and so gain a name like Dr. Jenner. 

Another complains bitterly of the insults passed on him 
from day to day; they will send him grease in with his food — 
lamp oil it is, which is intended to injure him, to dry up his 
brain and make his eyes run over. He was drugged till his 
head was actually bursting. H. said that his broth was 
enchanted, and that he had a ring in his throat. P. refused 
his dinner because the tin was marked with a white cross : * 
that meant mischief, he said. One said he had mercury put 
into his barley-water merely to annoy him. F. L. gave a 
great deal of trouble in this respect. He declared that at 
another prison a man got his (L/s) dinner by mistake, and 
was never heard of more. L. always refused his food if the 
cup or tin was in the least bent or disfigured. Another man, 
G., will not allow any one to see him eat or drink, but hides 
behind his bed at meal times, lest the officer should lay a spell 

* In the prison kitchen, for convenience in issuing provisions, it is 
customary to mark each batch of tins with numbers, crosses, and so 


upon his food. Everything W. gets is adulterated, even the 
water. The bread is poisoned, and he will drop a corpse 
sooner than eat a morsel of food. L. declared isinglass and 
laughing gas were given him in his cocoa, and swelling 
powder which made him as big as a mountain. The laughing 
gas was to keep him in good humour, but it tastes like candle 
tallow, and only makes his pulse beat the faster. It is all 
meant to turn him silly. But the officer will be clever who 
persuades him to take it. Another cunningly refuses his 
food because if "they^^ knew he took it they would put 
something into it. K. was especially suspicious of his food ; 
rejected the milk brought him because there was a crumb 
floating in it. At another time he gets very angry because 
there are three spots on the egg brought to him. ^^What are 
they here for ? " he asks. " What is the meaning of this ? " 
It was impossible to persuade him that nothing could well be 
put inside the shell of an egg. As a rule this man insisted on 
the officers eating a portion of every ration first. 

These are but a few of the cases which indeed might be 
multiplied without end. A second form of delusion as to ill- 
usage, is the dread of the determined hostility of all or a 
portion of the officials towards them. They fancy themselves 
victims of conspiracies againt them ; and assert that they 
hear the officers concocting schemes to do them injury, some- 
times outside their doors^ or in the airing-yards, or wherever 
they may be brought in contact. Thus A. T. asserts that the 
whole of the prisoners and officers persist in telling lies about 
him, and making false charges. They accuse him of being 
(1) a Fenian; (2) a haymaker; (3) that he is acquainted with 
men outside who have committed a robbery ; (4) that he is a 
pickpocket; (5) that he is in the habit of passing bad coin. 
There are in all forty charges, he says ; but he stuffs his ears 
with cotton wool, so that he may hear none of them. 

A third common form is the influence of electrical machines. 
In this respect many labour under most extraordinary de- 
lusions ; fancying, for instance, that they are still under the 
influence of a governor of a far-off prison, who they think can 
affect them still even at that distance. In this way one has 
the magnesium light turned on him; or they blow mercury 


into his liead, which makes it rotten ; or attack his eyes, so 
that he has to wear a handkerchief over them to keep the 
electric flashes out. Another declares that the doctor is in 
the tower working a machine which sends electric shocks up 
through the flags, and under his bed and up into his legs, 
which prick him like a needle. A third writes as follows, to 
his friends : " One mode of torture in this modern inquisition 
is the toothache, earache, tic-douloureux, and thrilling pains in 
the gums, which I have had all together ; and various pains 
which they put on regular for complaining ; they also give 
me the toothache every meal time, and sometimes for twenty- 
three hours every night." F. declares that he had the gas 
turned on to him, after which he was made insensible and 
drugged with opium. Then Madame Eachel was brought in 
to take a plaster cast of his head ; but the wax was put on so 
hot that it has injured him for life. 

More sad than any of the foregoing, are the delusions of 
wealth and grandeur : symptoms of a grave description these, 
because they usually end in the general paralysis of the insane. 
They are extraordinarily prevalent among criminal lunatics, 
and show themselves in many curious shapes. E. W. said he 
was paid £1000 a day while he was kept in Millbank. This 
was for looking after the prisoners. He is to be made king of 
the moon ; no one else has any right to it. He does not want 
to go to Heaven, he has the moon for a dominion to all eternity. 
Draws his crest on a slate — a circle topped with a crown, and 
inside an orange blossom. Then tells off his servants, with 
their wages opposite each. They are all to wear gilt buttons, 
and to have £700 a year apiece. He styles himself " Your 
Royalty," and says he means to come down on the national 
debt to pay all expenses. Another, S. I., has power over the 
sun ; can make it shine when it is a wet day. He has power 
also over the moon, and means to make the sun and moon 
change places. In fact he can move the sun which way he 
pleases ; and he is for ever climbing up to the window to see 
the moon rise. G. D. announces that he is the Prince of Wales 
— prophet, priest, and king. This man says the Queen is his 
god-mother, and that he means to get the doctor a good 
Government appointment for restoring his eyesight. B. 0. 


states gravely that lie is commander-in-chief, conqueror, and 
emperor of the world; he has besieged millions of castles, and 
carried off thousands of golden boats. But the officers have 
robbed him of all, and besides, of a number of field and 
pawnbrokers' chronometers. He says next that he is Baron 
Rothschild ; that he owns steel mountains, and mountains of 
gold, banks also, and breweries, and pawnshops without 
number. He thinks nothing of spending £1000 a day ; often 
goes to Paris for a fortnight, and gets through thousands of 
pounds. 0. B.''s sister, again, is Queen of New York, and he 
has an army of several millions in Wales fighting to get him 
back to the throne. He has a number of half-crown tickets to 
give away, he says ; he has got thousands of them, but the 
officers shall not have them, only the poor. He shall have an 
ox killed without delay, and so much given to each officer 
according to the number of his children. J. R. has had a long 
law suit, he says, but he has proved his legitimacy at last, 

and has won the estate. He is the owner now of R Park, 

but of course there is a steward to look after it while he 
is himself away. This man is so rich, that when he is given 
some cloth to do repairs with, he makes it up into two great 
pockets inside his coat, and said that they were an investment 
for his money. At another time he is king of Woking, and 
Colonel of the Madras Fusiliers ; sends his compliments to the 
Governor of Millbank, and informs him that either the prison 
or the neighbouring gas-works must come down — they are too 
close together. J. R. then decides himself that the prison 
shall fall, and thereupon marks off the whole of the cells and 
corridors within his reach into lots, and labels them " for sale," 
with a bit of white chalk. After which he jumps on his bed 
to sell the whole place by auction, going through the whole 
performance most accurately. " Any advance ? Who bids ? 
Going, going, gone ! '^ This man was so puffed up with his. 
own importance that he could not bear the sight of the other 
prisoners, calling them common convicts, and treating them 
with the greatest contempt. Whatever they got was too good 
for them. Acorns and glue were the sort of stuff they should 
be fed upon. 

Another group of delusions are those of great genius and 


great inventive power. One man says lie is wiser than 
Solomon^ that he has more knowledge in his finger nail than 
all the Solons in Europe. He has invented a machine by 
which thieves may be detected when they are breaking into 
a house, but he will only show it to the governor, for fear 
some one else should get out the patent first. Another, D. B.,, 
has invented a flying-machine, and he can make a pig fly — and 
" that is a very unlikely bird/' Now he only wants feathers 
to make its wings. This he intended to have done with his 
hair and whiskers, only they have been cut off. However, he 
completes the machine and tries it, returning to inform his- 
friends that he had put his head through the first heaven, but 
he could not breathe, and had to pull it back again. He only 
met a raven in his flight, which seemed very much surprised 
to see him. " It is a glorious treat to sail around the world in 
a balloon." Next time he tries his wings he means to take 
up a box of cigars, to hand to those officers he likes as he 
passes the prison ; but for those whom he hates he shall take 
up a bottle of vitriol, and drop it on their heads. To prove 
the value of his machine, he is to walk feet uppermost, along 
a rope stretched from the " doom " of St. Paul's to the top of 
the Monument. Unfortunately at the last, he declared he was 
no longer able to fly, as he had been steeped in salt and water 
and was now too weak. 

In the case of T. K. the '^invention" delusion went much 
further. He gave himself out as the sole inventor of the- 
" cork ship," which no one knew how to build but himself 
and the Americans ; and if they were to bring out a vessel of 
this kind it would sink the whole British fleet. He thinks it 
right our Government should know what a tremendous- 
weapon they may have to contend against. However, he has 
plenty of the cork ships on hand, and will part with them if 
the Admiralty likes to speculate. He was continually harping 
upon these ships : night and day he asked every one who 
approached whether any answer had come from the Govern- 
ment on the subject. At last he got leave to write to the 
authorities himself. This is his letter : 

"Your excellency, considering the present state of the 
policies of Europe and America, and seeing that the best 


statesmen and politicians are hard at work trying to promote 
their own ends — when wars and ramours of wars happen to 
be one of the principal orders of the day, I think your 
excellency will not consider me rude, seeing that I am an old 
acquaintance, for troubling you with this document at a time 
when it may be more than needed. My mean object in 
addressing your excellency at present, is to call the Prussian 
Government's serious attention to the very superior means 
that are now afloat both by sea and land for to accomplish 
warlike designs. The Prussian Government may or may not 
have satisfactory information of corked ships, but the sooner 
they shall have those ships the better for themselves. This 
corked style is altogether a new style for constructing heavy 
armour-clad war ships, far superior to the original style ; they 
carry plates that make them superior to laud fortifications, and 
I am told that nine or ten of them are sufficient to destroy all 
the war ships at present in Europe: They are to be found in 
the Mediterranean and the Baltic. Does the British and 
Prussian Government know this ? (There are a few par- 
ticulars in Alsace and Lourain, and in Berlin, that the 
Prussian Government would do well to know something 
about.) If your excellency will please put yourself in com- 
munication with the Secretary of State, or the first Lord of 
the Admiralty, you may hear of something to your advantage.'^ 

The letter was addressed to Count Bismarck, and poor 
T. K. waited in vain for a reply. At first he hoped for a 
large sum of money and his liberty as reward for the inven- 
tion. But time passed, and he got neither the one nor the 
other. Latterly he took to standing in one particular place 
in the ward for two hours together without moving, and 
without speaking to or noticing any one the whole time, intent 
only on the door through which he expected the messenger 
with an answer to his important letter. 

Last among the delusions, I must mention those of wrong- 
ful detention, mistaken identity, unjust sentence, and so forth. 
These are naturally extremely common. Even sane prisoners 
almost universally persist in proclaiming their innocence ; these 
of unsound mind therefore may be forgiven for falling into a 
similar error. The delusion shows itself mostly in the same 


way. Always asking to be set free, to be allowed to go home, 
to retui-n to Newgate, to be sent back to their own town to be 
tried again on a new indictment, that they have been kept in 
prison over their time — these are the strings on which they 
harp for ever. Sometimes one more violent takes the law into 
his own hands, and tries to make his escape. Thus W. R. gets up 
one morning and says he is not in his right place. He has had 
enough of this crib. "What is the damage for my night's 
lodgings ? — I'm off. I only enlisted for nine months," After 
that he was always trying to run away. If he saw a door open 
he made straight for it. At early " unlocking " of the cells he 
would often gather up his clothes, both bedding and wearing 
apparel, and make a run for the gate. At other times he 
climbed to the window and tried to force his way through the 
bars. He was fond of remarking, " Ah, I lost a fine chance 
to-day j I could have got away easily enough/^ and so on. 

The next principal group are hallucinations or delusions of 
the senses, either as to seeing or hearing. In the former cases 
the sufferer sees visions that are absolutely without corporeal 
existence ; in the latter, hears sounds altogether imaginary. 
The visions are very various. One man is visited at night by 
the whole of his family ; the wife and child of another come to 
see him in his cell, but Tim Dooley always appears and drags 
them away, holding a knife to their throats. A third sees his 
father lying in front of him as plain as can be, with his throat 
cut. Others are worried by evil spirits. J. B. says they put bad 
words into his mouth when he is eating or saying his prayers. 
He sees them fly out of his mouth, and then back again right 
down his throat. Next they get into his hair, and he wants a 
small-tooth comb to get them out. J. L. jumps suddenly off 
his seat one day, and rushes along the side of the wall, crying, 
" I'll knock your ugly head off." When asked what it all 
meant, he replied an ugly devil with horns on its head was 
sitting at the edge of his bed. It had a two-edged axe ready 
to strike him, R. M. cries out, " Fire ! fire ! the devils are 
having a banquet in my head." Then he rubs his head against 
the brick wall, and lies down underneath the water-tap to let 
the stream play on his head. At another time R. M. sees a 
man in front of him at night, dressed in white, continually 


grinning at Mm. Next, evil spirits float through the air and 
spit nasty stuff at him as they pass ; sees little men, dwarfs all 
about, and wants to be bricked up in a dungeon so that no one 
can come near him. J. W. spends the night creeping under 
the different beds in the ward, saying there is some one after 
him with a carving-knife. H. J. walks about the yard very 
much excited, saying some woman is following him wherever 
he goes; runs first to one side and then to the other, and 
motions her away, his eyes full of water, and every now and 
then he gives a loud shout. F. L. sees white pigeons con- 
tinually flying about his cell. H. P. is troubled with musicians 
in his head, playing fifes, violins, bugles, and drums. " Play 
up, play up ! " he constantly cries, " get up the steam, you 
black devils — play up." To R. S., invisibles come in the night 
and lift the corner of his bed and put animals underneath, and 
then screw him down through the back and head. But 
instances of this form of delusion might be multiplied 

Religious mania is very prevalent among criminal lunatics. 
It is not easy to give any thoroughly satisfactory reason for 
this ; but this fact is patent, that all prisoners are brought 
into closer and more continuous contact with religious matters 
than others of the same class who have kept always out of 
trouble. This is especially true of those sentenced to long 
terms of imprisonment. They hear the same expressions and 
witness the same ceremonies daily year after year. Good may 
— and undoubtedly does — at times result; but the inevitable 
consequence is that all are more or less saturated with the 
mere jargon of creeds, and can rattle off as glibly as you please 
all manner of formulas, scriptural names, expressions, texts, or 
tag- ends of hymns. Hence it is that any among them who 
are disposed to feign madness not unfrequently adopt this 
line ; while it is not impossible that others — brooding con- 
tinually over these awful subjects in the solitude of their cells, 
with but a limited library and no escape from, or variety for, 
their thoughts — may and do actually become mad on the 
subject of religion. 

I will describe briefly some of the most interesting cases 
of religious mania. 


A. F. had been a soldier, and spent tliree years in pi'ison 
out of eight for various military crimes. He was after- 
wards sentenced to penal servitude for burglary. Signs of 
mental derangement soon became apparent. This man was 
always thirsty, and he would drink all the water he could lay 
hands upon. He said he drank water for the salvation of his 
soul. He does not know how soon he may be called upon to 
part from life. No one can hurt him : he has power over 
angels, and means to have all Government prisons destroyed. 
P. C. says there is something wrong between him and the 
church, and he would like to go out to make it all right. He 
has a mission to preach the gospel and salvation; and is 
always quoting scripture. He is persecuted, but he will bring 
out the church brighter than a rose. He has more power than 
the Bishop of Canterbury. Next he is king of Italy, but does 
not know yet whether he is to announce himself as such or 
turn priest. He has received a prerogative from Heaven to 
write what is revealed to him ; has indeed supernatural power 
bestowed on him for the benefit of the human race. This 
man is a curious contradiction. In the midst of his sermons 
he is often violent and abusive ; throws a spittoon at an 
ojEcer's head, and calls him all the vile names he can recollect. 
Alternately he prays and uses the most frightful imprecations. 
In the middle of regular prayers in the ward, just as the 
scripture reader is about to commence, P. C. throws his boots 
into the middle of the room so that they make a great noise. 
" Why did I do it ? ^' he replies when asked. " It answered 
for itself. Do you see that hook in the wall ? What is it for ? 
It answers for itself." 

I. H. spends half the day on his knees at prayer, but the 
moment he gets up he challenges a man to fight. He says 
he is not half enough punished for the crimes he has com- 
mitted. H. McK. in the same way is always praying. In 
the airing-yard he rushes off to a corner and remains there on 
his knees, beating himself on the breast and calling aloud on 
all the saints to save him. H. C. wishes to communicate 
his religious feelings to others : gives out prayers, and writes 
instructions for the other prisoners on every slate he can 
£nd, and when interfered with says he is only doing his 


duty. Some of these religious lunatics are very quarrelsome^ 
They are always arguing, and the argument soon develops 
into a fight. Most are gloomy, many supremely contemptuous, 
as showing their great superiority over every one else. Others 
continually use most blasphemous expressions, crying out, 
" Eli ! Eli ! '^ and asserting they are the Supreme Being. One 
man is sent as ambassador to the pope — is the pope's equal. 
Another has been sent on earth to save sinners ; a third has 
the keys of the gates of hell ; a fourth says his father studied 
the Bible so much that it drove him mad. 

A form of mania which is more often seen among criminal 
lunatics than with others is the tendency to destructiveness. 
There are some who, simply from irresistible impulse and quite 
without motive, will destroy everything within reach, even to 
their own manifest discomfort. One will break all the glass 
in his cell windows. Another will tear up all his warm clothing 
and body clothing specially issued to him. Even if fresh be 
supplied, he will tear that too into ribbons. J. F. actually took 
to tearing the nails off his toes, and when checked at this he 
attacked his finger nails. This man would never allow a button 
to remain on his jacket or waistcoat — tore them off as quickly 
as they were sewn on. The only remedy for cases like this is 
the use of a quilted canvas suit. W. M. when excited seemed 
actually compelled to commit some damage, walking up 
deliberately to the nearest chair, which he would smash to 
atoms ; doing the §ame with panes of glass, lamps, and 
crockery ; throwing tin plates, tables, everything he could 
lay hands on, out of the window. T. J. violently resists all 
attempts to cut his hair; then when it is done he destroys 
his sheets and blankets, saying there is no more harm in that 
than in their cutting his hair. This was on a par with another 
who having torn up his clothes objected to be punished. 
" Why should I be punished ? Job wasn't when he rent his 
clothes — I have Scripture proof of it : why should I ? " 

Suicidal mania is common enough among all lunatics, but 
none go the length of criminal lunatics in refusing all food 
and endeavouring to die by starvation.* The other attempts 

* This must, however, be qualified a little. An eminent physician 
mentions a patient who was so persistent that he had to be fed 8000- 


Tiave nothing peculiar about them, and they are probably 
more easily checked so long as the lunatic remains in a prison, 
because prison officials are perhaps more keenly alive than 
ordinary asylum attendants to the necessity of strict searching 
to deprive dangerous men of anything that might possibly 
serve as a lethal weapon. 

Feigned madness is naturally more likely to be seen among 
■criminals than others. As a general rule ordinary people 
have little to gain by being considered mad ; convicts, on the 
other hand, if they can succeed in imposing upon those in 
authority, are likely to obtain the benefit of release from 
severe labour, better diet, and a cheerful location at Broad- 
moor. Hence there are often cases of imposture sustained 
for periods almost beyond belief. With such men, only the 
lynx-eyed prison medical officer, backed by long experience, 
sooner or later detects the flaw. Unless, indeed, as has 
happened, the wretched impostor goes too far, and from 
pretending too much, lapses at length into real insanity. 
T. W. was an instance of this. He arrived at Millbank shrewd 
of intellect and in excellent health. But soon his conduct 
became so eccentric that he was taken to the infirmary " for 
•observation.'' For months he kept up the deception. The 
doctors thought all the symptoms feigned, and yet such was 
the prisoner's pertinacity that they began to doubt. Through 
it all they maintained the closest watch, and under this the 
prisoner probably broke down. The extreme tension of his 
nervous system, persevered in night and day, was more than 
he could stand, so that finally he became undoubtedly mad, 
and was sent to a regular asylum. A similar case, so far as 
persistent imposture, was that of Richard Davis, who was tried 
at Maidstone, and sent to Millbank in 1854. This man acted 
the part so well that he was actually removed to Bethlehem 
Hospital, and thence to Fisherton Asylum. Sometimes he 
-abstained from food and drink for as long as eight days 
together. However, he was returned to Millbank, and he 

.times with the stomacli-pump . This is worse, I believe, than anything 
which has occurred in prison. The medical officer of Millbank informs 
me that he never knew any prisoner to refuse food for more than seven 
«r eight days. 


confessed tliat he had never been mad at all. " A good sound 
flogging would have cured me," he admitted^ frankly enough. 
Between 1850-6 cases of feigned insanity and assumed 
epileptic fits were extremely common in Millbank. 

I have in the preceding pages touched upon the principal 
groups into which criminal lunatics — as seen for only a 
limited length of time — have generally grouped themselves. 
My remarks have been based mostly on personal observa- 
tion, and they are unsupported by any special professional 
knowledge, therefore they must be taken simply for what they 
are worth. 

Over and above the several classes to which I have referred, 
most of which amounted to distinct insanity, there are many 
poor creatures among the criminals in prison, who are imbeciles 
only, and no more. It is among these weak-minded men that 
others more intelligent and more designing select their tools. 
They get into prison, these imbeciles, really through no fault 
of their own. They have been used as "cats' paws," and 
they are only to be pitied. The blame of their misdeeds rests 
more on their parents from whom they have inherited their 
mental shortcomings, and, even in a greater degree, on the 
vile tempters to whom these unsuspecting simpletons have 
fallen an easy prey. 




No account of transportation beyond the seas would be 
complete without some reference to the passage out to the 
antipodes, which naturally was an integral part of the whole 
scheme. From first to last many hundreds of ships were 
employed on this service. Those that composed the " first 
fleet," under Captain Phillip, in 1788, head the list; last 
of all comes the steamer London, which went to Gibraltar 
in November, 1871. The London was the last prison ship 
that has left our shores. In the long interval between these 
dates, the conditions under which deportation was carried out 
have varied not a little. Abuses in the earliest days were 
many and flagrant. As time passed, came all that was possible 
in the way of reform, and those charged with the execution of 


tlie system did their utmost to reduce tlie evils inseparable 
from it. But even to tlie last they were hardly obviated 
altogether ; and this difficulty of carrying out under proper 
restrictions the removal of convicts by sea-passage to a distant 
land, is one — and by no means the weakest — of the many 
arguments against transportation. 

At the close of the last century, and during the early years 
of this, when the whole system was still somewhat new and 
untried, the arrangements were about as bad as it was possible 
for them to be. I have already described* the horrors that 
were perpetrated in one particular convoy : the neglect and 
starvation, the sickness and the terrible mortality that ensued. 
These shameful proceedings were due entirely to the rapacity 
and dishonesty of the ship -captains, who sought to increase 
their profits by improper means. But no sooner was their 
misconduct brought to light, than any repetition of it was 
prevented by the enforcement of certain new and salutary 
regulations. The ships were no longer victualled by the con- 
tractors, but stores were put on board by the commissioners of 
the navy, and certain checks and safeguards were introduced 
to ensure the issue to every man of his proper allowance. 
Nevertheless, the mortality continued at times to be dispro- 
portionately large. Especially was this the case in the ships 
General Hewitt, Surrey, and Three Bees ; and, aroused thereby 
to the necessity of further reform, Governor Macquarie insti- 
tuted at Sydney, in 1814, a full inquiry into the conduct of 
convict ships in general. Great alterations were recommended 
by Dr. Redfern, at that time the assistant surgeon of the 
colony. His suggestions embraced principally the points on 
which he was specially competent to speak — the necessity, 
that is to say, for the proper issue of clothing, for sufficient 
diet and air space, with proper medical assistance if required. 
Most of his recommendations were adopted, and they were all 
amply justified by the diminished mortality In subsequent 
voyages. Previous to this period the owners usually provided 
a surgeon, who was paid by them, receiving only from Govern- 
ment, after the completion of his duty, a reward; but this 
reward was dependent on the production by him of a certificate 
* Chap, siii., p. 251. 


from tlie Governor of New South Wales, to fhe effect that tlie 
latter was perfectly satisfied. The surgeon's letter of service 
stated that, on the production of this certificate, he would be 
recompensed for his " assiduity and humanity by a present at 
the discretion of His Majesty's Secretary of State. On the 
other hand, any neglect of essential duties will not fail to be 
properly noticed." Full instructions were issued for the 
guidance of the surgeon. He was to inspect the " people " — 
this term seems to have been adopted from the earliest times 
to describe the convict passengers — daily ; the sick twice a 
day, those in health once. The former he was to treat accord- 
ing to his judgment ; the latter were to be examined closely for 
signs of fever, flux, or scurvy, in order that " early and 
effectual means may be taken to stop the progress of their 
diseases." He was moreover to keep a diary for the entry of 
everything connected with the sick, noting also the " daily 
number of convicts admitted upon deck, the times when the 
decks were scraped, the ship fumigated, the berths cleaned 
and ventilated, and all other circumstances which may, imme- 
diately or remotely, affect the health of the crew or convicts.'^ 
How closely he performed his duties may be judged by the 
fact that Mr. Commissioner Bigge advances* as one reason for 
keeping the hospital in the fore part of the ship, that " any 
arrangement by which the personal inspection of the surgeons 
is frequently directed to the whole of the prison (which must 
be the case if they have to traverse it on their visits to the 
hospital), ought not to be exchanged for another, and more 
commodious position of that apartment, unless the advantages 
of such a change are clear and decisive.'' This does not look 
as if these surgeons were over zealous, at least in the duty of 
frequently visiting and inspecting the prison decks. 

Similarly, precise rules governed the conduct of the master 
of the ship. He also was promised a reward if his conduct 
gave satisfaction. He was especially desired to see to the 
preservation of health, by keeping his ship constantly sweet 
and clean, and by taking on board before departure all articles, 
fumigating and others, necessary for the purpose. The 

* Mr. Bigge's Eeport on New South "Wales, p. 6. Parliamentary 
Keports, June, 1822. 


master was especially charged witli the care of provisions, and 
in this respect his conduct was to be closely watched. The 
fear was not so much lest the convicts should receive short 
allowance, although this happened too, in spite of all pre- 
cautions, but that there should be a substitution of inferior 
stores for those of Government, which were always supposed to 
be good of their kind. The former fraud was to some extent 
guarded against, chiefly by publishing plainly, in several parts 
of the prison, the scale of diet to which every convict was 
entitled ; but even this was sometimes upset by the captain 
giving money compensation at the end of the voyage to 
the convict for food not issued. Another precaution lay in 
making every man of each convict " mess " attend in rotation 
to receive the rations, instead of having one standing delegate 
for the whole voyage as heretofore. It was found that 
imposition and corruption were less frequently tried with 
many than with few. As to the other kind of dishonesty, 
it was provided for by requiring the surgeon's attendance at 
the opening of each new cask of provision — a sufl&cient check, 
no doubt, so long as the interests of captain and surgeon were 
not identical. It was just possible, however, that they might 
play into each other's hands. 

But one of the wisest steps taken after 1814, was when 
the Government itself appointed the medical officers, giving 
the preference, as far as possible, to surgeons of the Royal 
Navy. On this point Bigge says, " A great improvement has 
undoubtedly arisen in the transportation of convicts from the 
appointment of naval surgeons to the superintendence of the 
ships taken up for this service. Much attention has been paid 
by them to the instructions of the Navy Board, that enjoin an 
attention to the performance of rehgious duties ; and their 
efforts in preserving health have been no less conspicuous and 
successful. In promoting these it does not often happen 
that they meet with direct opposition from the masters of 
convict ships ; but as there are points in their conduct, 
respecting which no other individual than the surgeon can be 
expected to hold a control or afford information, it is of no slight 
importance to make the surgeons as independent as possible of 
the favour of the master and the bounty of the owners.'' 


There was every reason to expect that the Government 
would be better served by an officer of its own, than by some 
one taken indiscriminately from outside. But equally probable 
was it that there would be a conflict of authority between the 
master, who had been hitherto practically supreme, and the 
new style of oflicial, who might be said to possess, to some 
extent, the confidence of the Crown, This came to pass ; and 
the difficulty was not smoothed away by the tenor of the 
early acts regulating- transportation. These had adopted the 
provisions of the 4 Geo. I., cap. 11, by which a property in the 
services of the convict was vested (or assigned) to the persons 
who contracted to transport them. The master of the ship, as 
representing the contractors, had this property with all its 
responsibilities ; but he was bound also to obey all orders from 
the commissioners of the navy and attend all requisitions from 
the surgeon-superintendent. This apparent contradiction led 
to frequent altercations between these two modern Kings of 
Brentford. Where one looked only to the preservation of 
health, the other thought chiefly of safe custody. If the 
doctor wished to fumigate the prison, or send the "people " 
all on deck, the captain demurred, and talked of the danger he 
ran of losing his ship and his cargo, too, by one and the same 
blow. Being thus personally concei'ned in the security of all 
they had on board, the masters of convict ships for a long 
time maintained that they must be the fittest persons to hold 
the supreme power. On the other hand, many of the higher 
authorities leant towards entrusting the real command to the 
surgeon. This, which was clearly the proper plan, did in time 
become the rule. The reasons for it yearly became more 
apparent. In the first place, the naval surgeon, as a com- 
missioned officer, was more under the control of the Crown ; 
besides which, by degrees these surgeon-superintendents could 
fairly claim that they had gained experience, and had proved 
their aptitude for the service in which they were employed. 
As ship after ship was chartered the captains came and went. 
There was no certainty that the same vessel with the same 
master would be taken up twice over for the conveyance 
of convicts. But the surgeons remained, and sailed voyage 
after voyage to the penal colonies. Ere long, the power 


wliicli liad been at first contested rested altogether in their 

All trustwortliy authorities give but a sorry account of the 
condition of the convicts during the passage. Even when 
everything that was possible had been done to reduce the 
death -ratCj by ensuring a sufficient supply of food and proper 
medical attendance, the plain fact remained that here were a 
couple of hundi'ed felons (or more) boxed up together for 
months, with no other employment or object in life than that 
of contaminating one another. As a rule the whole mass of 
the " people " remained idle throughout the voyage. A few 
might assist in the navigation of the ship so far as was possible 
without going aloft. Others who were mechanics found it to 
their interest to make themselves useful in their particular 
trades, gaining in return greater freedom as to coming up on 
deck, and perhaps some additional articles of food. " But 
the greater proportion of the convicts," says Bigge, '' are sunk 
in indolence, to which the ordinary duties of washing and 
cleansing the prisons, though highly salutary in themselves 
and performed with great regularity, afford but slight 

They spent their time in gambling, quarrelling, and 
thieving from one another. In these relaxations the crew 
generally joined, as it was impossible to prevent intercom- 
munication between convicts and sailors. The latter were 
not always immaculate, and were not seldom charged with 
purloining the private property of the prisoners, which had 
been provided by friends when leaving England. The medium 
for gambling was chiefly the wine and lime juice issued as 
part of the daily rations. If the convicts had money — which 
was unusual, except in small quantities — then they played for 
cash, but this was prevented by taking all money from them, 
as far as possible, on embarkation, to be kept for them till the 
voyage was at an end. The other method of speculation was 
also checked to some extent by " strictly observing that the 
allowance of wine and lime juice is taken by every convict in 
the presence of an officer at the time of distribution." Another 
plan was to deprive the offenders of their allowance, but to 
•compel them to attend at the " grog-tub," and administer that 


wliicli they liad thus forfeited to some other prisoner who had 
behaved well. 

The only discipline enforced on board, was just so much 
as was necessary to ensure a moderate amount of repression. 
For this purpose the people were all for a time in irons ; for 
the same reason, only certain fixed proportions of the whole 
number were allowed upon deck at one and the same time. 
As a final bulwark behind all, should an ultimate appeal to the 
strong arm be at any time needed, stood the military guard. 
Every ship carried a detachment of soldiers : recruits some- 
times, going out as drafts to join their regiments in Australia ;. 
at others, part of a whole battalion, which embarked thus 
piecemeal, ship after ship, ending, according to one writer, 
with the commanding oflScer and the band. The guard, or 
the portion of it actually on duty, carried always loaded fire- 
arms j from it came sentries for ever on the watch, some at 
the doors of the prisons, others upon the poop. As a general 
rule, ships with poops were preferred for convict ships, 
because the soldiers stationed thereon were sufficiently elevated 
above the deck to be able to control the movements of the 
convicts at exercise, though altogether separated from them. 

The dread of some outbreak among the "people'^ seems 
to have been an ever-present sensation with those in authority 
on board these ships. Nor was the alarm confined to those 
connected with the ship itself. Whenever a strange sail, in 
those days of profound peace, appeared above the horizon, she 
was set down always as a convict ship seized by its felon 
passengers, who were supposed to have turned pirates, and to 
have hoisted the black flag to range the high seas in search of 
plunder. I suppose there was not one among the hundi'ed 
ships that left the Nore or the Mother Bank, through the 
long years that transportation lasted, in which rumours of 
conspiracy did not prevail at some time or other during the 
passage. Yet nine times out of ten these fears were abso- 
lutely groundless. Outbreaks did occur, of course ; but few 
of them were serious in nature, and nearly all were forestalled 
bv the timely perfidy of one of the conspirators. Colonel 
Breton, in his evidence before the Parliamentary Committee 
of 1837, said that he had heard of one ship with female 


convicts which, had been captured by the crew and carried 
into Rio.* Bat I can find no corroboration of this state- 
ment elsewhere. The same authority talks vaguely of another 
plot in his own ship, which came to nothing, because another 
and a more desperate character turned informer. 

More serious was the conspiracy which was discovered 
in a ship, of which Dr. Galloway, E,.N., was the surgeon- 
superintendent. This was brought to light just after the ship 
had left Plymouth Sound — as a general rule all such attempts 
are made in the early part of the voyage — and it was dis- 
covered by a sentinel who overheard a fragment of a con- 
versation by the hatchway during the morning watch. The 
plot was cleverly laid. The convicts had observed that the 
old guard discharged their firelocks always at sunrise, and 
that the new guard did not reload till eleven o'clock. They 
planned therefore to mutiny in the early morning, just after 
the guard had fired, resolving to seize these weapons, and 
then to overpower the captain, the rest of the soldiers, and 
the crew. The total strength of the military detachment was 
forty, and the convicts were two hundred and fifty. The 
plotters of this outbreak were promptly punished on proof 
of their guilt, twelve of them being obliged to carry double 
irons for seven or eight weeks. 

In one of the earliest ships the opposing parties actually 
came to blows — so says Mr. Barrington,f at least, who went 

* Convict ships witli females on board were as a rule more easily- 
managed than those with males. But the following extract from a 
letter from the matron on board the convict ship Elizabeth and Henry, 
in 1848, relates a curious incident : 

" Off Cape of Good Ho2Je [April SOth). — We were likely to have a 
mutiny on board a few weeks since. The prisoners laid a plan for 
strangling the doctor, but providentially it was made known by M. A. 
Stewart, a convict, just before it was executed. MclSTalty and Brennan 
were the ringleaders in the affair. When it was known, the officers of 
the ship went down in the prison with firearms. Fancy the scene ! 
The doctor has now promised to forgive them if they conduct them- 
selves well the rest of the voyage." 

t The memoirs of this Barrington (a very different person to Sir 
Jonah Barrington) were widely successful, and soon ran through 
several editions. His career of crime was more than curious. His 
hunting-grounds were royal levees, court balls, Kanelagh, and the 


as a convict in 1 790 to Botany Bay. According to Ms account 
two Americans among the people persuaded the others to 
conspire to seize the ship. They declared that the capture 
effected, it would be easy to carry the prize into some American 
port, where all would receive a hearty welcome. Not only 
would all obtain their liberty as a matter of course, but Con- 
gress would give them also a tract of land, and a share of the 
money accruing from the sale of the ship and her cargo. 

The plan of action was to seize the arm-chest while the 
officers were at dinner. This was kept upon the quarter-deck, 
under the charge of sentries. The latter were to be engaged 
in conversation till the supreme moment arrived, and then at 
a signal given, seized. This was to be followed by a general 
rush on deck of all the convicts from below. Barrington 
relates that he was standing with the man at the wheel when 
the mutiny actually broke out. Hearing a scuffle upon the 
main deck, he was on the point of going forward, when he 
was stopped by one of the Americans, who made a stroke at 
his head with a sword taken from a sentry. "Another snapped 
at me a pistol. I had a hand-spike, and felled the first to 
the ground." Meanwhile the man at the wheel ran down 
and gave the alarm. The captain was below, seeing to the 
stowage of some wine ; but Barrington held the mutineers 
at bay, at the head of the companion ladder, till the captain 
came up with a blunderbuss in his hand and fired. This 
dispersed the enemy, and they thereupon retired. An imme- 
diate example was made of the ringleaders in this affair. Two 
were forthwith hanged at the yard-arm, and a number flogged. 
To Barrington, the captain and his officers were profuse in 
thanks, and at the end of the voyage they made him a sub- 
stantial present. Told in Mr. Barrington's own words, the 
story of this mutiny tends rather to his own glorification. 
It is just possible that he may have exaggerated some of 
the details — his own valiant deeds with the rest. 

opera-house. At the palace he found it easy in the crush to cut the 
diamonds out of orders and stars. At the opera he picked Prince 
Orloff's pocket of a snufE-box worth £30,000, but being collared by 
the owner he restored the booty. He was eventually transported for 
stealing a gold watch at Enfield races from Mr. H. H. Townshend. 


But as a rule tlie efforts made by the convicts to ris& 
against their rulers on shipboard were futile in the extreme. 
Even Mr. Commissioner Bigge, in 1822, laughs at all notion 
of the convicts combining to capture the ships. He is com- 
menting on the different practice of different doctors and 
captains, as to allowing the people upon deck and removing 
their irons. Some, he says, who are inexperienced and timid 
dread the assemblage of even half on the upper deck, and they 
would not for worlds remove the irons till the voyage is half 
over. Others do not care if the whole body came up together, 
and they take off all irons before the ship is out of the Channel. 
But he considers the free access to the deck so important in 
preserving discipline, as well as health, during the voyage, 
that " no unwarrantable distrust of the convicts " ought to in- 
terfere with it, and " no apprehension of any combined attempt 
to obtain possession of the ship." He thus continues : 

" The fear of combinations among the convicts to take th& 
ship is proved by experience of later years to be groundless ; 
and it may be safely affirmed, that if the instructions of the 
Navy Board are carried into due effect by the surgeon- 
superintendent and the master, and if the convicts obtain the 
full allowance of provisions made to them by Government, as 
well as reasonable access to the deck, they possess neither 
fidelity to each other, nor courage sufficient to make any 
simultaneous effort that may not be disconcerted by timely 
information, and punished before an act of aggression is 
committed. A short acquaintance with the characters of the 
convicts, promises of recommendation to the governor on their 
arrival in New South Wales, and an ordinary degree of skill 
in the business of preventive police, will at all times afford 
means of obtaining information." * 

The passage out of all these convict ships was upon the- 
whole exceedingly prosperous. The voyage could be per- 
formed with perfect safety. Mr. Bigge says that up to his 
time no ships had arrived disabled ; more than this, no 
disasters had occurred to any in Bass Straits, where serious 
mishaps so frequently happened. The chief and only 
difficulty really was the tendency to delay upon the road. 
* Bigge's Eeporfc, p. 3. Parliamentary Eeports, June, 1822. 


There was a great temptation to both master and surgeon to 
call at Rio. All sorts of excuses were made to compass 
this — that the ship was running short o£ water, for instance, 
or that the passengers absolutely required a change of diet. 
Sugar was to be bought at Rio, and tobacco, and with a 
freight of these the officials could make a profitable specu- 
lation on reaching Sydney. For the doctor the temptation 
was especially strong, because he was for years allowed to 
land his goods at New South Wales duty-free. But if the 
superiors thus benefited themselves, it was at the cost of the 
discipline of the convicts, such as it was. The ship was for 
the time neglected utterly ; the captain was busy and so was 
the doctor with their commercial enterprises. The convicts 
for security sake were relegated to irons; but means were 
taken by them to obtain surreptitiously spirits from shore, and 
wholesale intoxication and demoralisation naturally followed. 
In view of all this the masters of convict ships were ordered 
to make the run outwards direct. The requisite supplies 
might be calculated with care in advance, so as to preclude 
the chance of any scarcity before the end of the voyage. But 
if it so happened that to touch at some port or other was 
imperative, then the Cape of Good Hope was to be invariably 
chosen instead of Rio. 

These orders to bear up for the Cape in case of necessity 
were clearly right and proper, but in one case they were 
attended with very serious consequences. I allude to the 
loss of the Waterloo convict ship in Table Bay, in the month 
of September, 1842. In this case scurvy had appeared on 
board, and therefore the surgeon-superintendent gave the 
master a written order to change his course. It was necessary 
to touch at the Cape to obtain supplies of vegetables and fresh 
meat. To Table Bay they came in due course, and there 
remained — ignorant, seemingly, of the danger they ran, of 
which they would have been duly warned had the naval 
authorities been aware of their arrival. But the surgeon- 
superintendent failed to report it; and "in this omission,'-' 
says Vice- Admiral Sir E. King when animadverting upon the 
whole occurrence, " he has only followed the common and 
very reprehensible neglect of duty in this respect of surgeon- 

2 D 


superintendents of convict sMps." Ill-luck followed the- 
Waterloo. The master went on shore and left his ship to the 
care of his chief mate, a young and inexperienced seaman, 
who showed himself when the moment of emergency came 
either utterly incompetent or culpably negligent — probably 
both. One of those sudden gales which frequently ravage 
Table Bay rose without warning, and the Waterloo went 
straight on the rocks. Nothing was done to save her. The 
masts were not cut away, and everybody on board seemed 
helpless. Another ship, the transport Ahercromhie Robinson, 
which was lying in Table Bay at the time, was also driven 
ashore ; but her people were rescued, and she did not become 
an entire wreck. But the moment the Waterloo struck she 
broke up, and went to pieces. Terrible loss of life followed : 
188 out of a total of 302 on board were drowned, and but for 
the merest chance not a soul among the convict passengers 
would have reached the land alive. The prisoners had been at 
first set free, but they were then ordered below again by the 
surgeon-superintendent, who feared they would rush violently 
into the surf boats coming to the rescue, and so swamp them. 
The poor creatures went below obediently enough, and then 
followed one of those fatal but inexplicable mistakes which might 
have led to the most terrible consequences. The doctor as a 
matter of precaution had ordered the prisons to be bolted down, 
but the bolts in the hatches could have been easily at any 
moment withdrawn. However, the officious corporal in command 
of the military guard proprio motn affixed a padlock to the bolt 
to make it secure, and quite forgot to take it off again. The 
excuse made for him was that he was " under the influence of 
the panic incident to the unexpected and almost instantaneous 
demolition of the ship." Thus several hundred men were in 
momentary danger of being drowned like rats in a hole. 
" Most providentially," says the report from which I quote, 
" the awful consequences of the unaccountable conduct of the 
corporal were averted by one of the prisoners striking off the 
padlock with a hammer that had accidentally been left in the 
prison early that morning, it having been used to remove the 
irons from the only prisoners who wore them for some offence." 
So the convicts reached the deck in time to avail themselves 


of such means of escape as offered. But these were few. 
Had the masts been cut down, when the long boat was lowered, 
they might have formed a temporary bridge over which the 
people might have passed in comparative safety to the surf boats. 
As it was, nearly two-thirds of them were drowned. 

This catastrophe attracted great attention at the time. At 
Cape Town the sudden and apparently unaccountable destruc- 
tion of the ship led to great excitement in the public mind. A 
very searching inquiry was therefore set on foot. The debris of 
the wreck having been carefully examined by Captain Sir John 
Marshall, R.N,, he reported unhesitatingly that the Waterloo 
must have been unseaworthy when she left England. " General 
decay and rottenness of the timbers appeared in every step 
we took.'^ She had been repeatedly repaired at considerable 
outlay, but she had run so long that she was quite beyond cure. 

As a further explanation of the disaster the mate and crew 
were charged with being drunk at the time the ship struck. 
But the only evidence in support of this was an intercepted 
letter of one of the convicts who had been saved. He asserted 
that the chief mate could not keep his legs ; that in trying to 
drive in a nail he staggered and fell. The rolling of the vessel 
was deemed a more than sufficient explanation of this. 
Another charge was made against one of the seamen who 
swam back to the ship after he had once actually reached the 
shore. No man in his sober senses, urged the convict witness, 
would have risked his life in this way ; whereas it was clearly 
proved that no man otherwise than sober could possibly have 
battled successfully with the surf. 

It is but fair to add that the unseaworthy condition of the 
Waterloo was distinctly denied at Lloyd^s. They certified 
that at the time of sailing she was " in an efficient state of 
repair and equipment, and fully competent for the safe per- 
formance of any voyage to any part of the world." And as 
the credit of the transport office had been more or less im- 
pugned, a return was about this time called for by the House, 
of the number of convict-ships which had foundered at sea, or 
not been heard of, between 1816 and 1842. It was satisfactorily 
shown that in this way not one single ship had been lost 
through all those years. 

2 D 2 


But there liad been other shipwrecks, and among these 
none with more fatal results than that of the AmpMtrite, 
which went ashore at Boulogne, in September, 1833. The 
story of this mishap is an instructive homily in more ways 
than one. The ship was proceeding gaily down channel, 
with a freight of one hundred and eight female convicts, 
when she was met by a violent and unexpected gale, accom- 
panied by a very heavy sea. She was on a lee shore. The 
conduct of the master in presence of danger is described as 
seamanlike, judicious, and decisive. Seeing no help for it, 
and that he could not save his vessel from the land, he said 
openly to the mate that he must look for the best berth and 
run her straight on shore. They ran her up as high as possible, 
hoping the tide as it rose would drive her higher. Then with 
as much complacency as if they were safely lodged in a secure 
harbour, the crew went below, had supper and turned in. 
Before daybreak the ship was smashed to atoms, and only 
three lives were saved. The ship's fate was indeed sealed 
from the moment she went ashore. Nothing possibly could 
have saved her, and it was a matter of surprise to all who 
witnessed the catastrophe that she was not deserted while 
there was yet time. " All might have been saved, but for the 
deplorable error in judgment on the part of the crew." 

More than this, the lives at least of the female convicts 
might have been preserved but for the strange obstinacy of 
the surgeon's wife. According to the evidence of one of the 
survivors, the doctor ordered the long boat to be lowered soon 
after the ship struck. He was not in the least afraid of losing 
his prisoners, and meant to put them all forthwith on shore. 
Here, however, his wife interposed. She would not go ashore 
in the boat. Nothing would induce her to sit in the same 
boat with the convicts. "Her pride," says the narrator, 
"^ revolted at the idea." Whether her husband expostulated 
does not appear; but in the end he gave way. No boat 
should leave the ship that night. Next morning it was too 
late. Complete destruction, as I have said, followed the 
rising of the tide. 

But I fear I have lingered too long over these early days. 
Let us return now to Millbank. 


It was not till the time of Captain Groves that the prison 
was first brought into close and almost daily connection with 
the "bay ships," as they were commonly called. While 
Mr. Nihil was governor^ batches of transports awaiting pas- 
sage were occasionally lodged in the Penitentiary, and plenty 
of trouble they gave.* But after the new regime was introduced 
by the Act of 1843, embarkation of drafts for Australia took 
place every week or two from the stone steps on the river 
bank, opposite the main entrance of the prison. The dawn is 
just breaking as they file silently across the deserted roadway, 
and down unto the tug that is to convey them to the Nore. 
Only the night previous were they made aware that the hour 
of their departure had arrived. Then had followed such 
necessary preparations as a close medical inspection, to guard 
against the propagation of infectious disease; shaving, bath- 
ing, and the issue of the necessary clothing and kit bags. 
Every convict was furnished with a new suit, which was to 
last him all the voyage; but they carried a second suit in 
their bags, with underclothing, and, in some cases, an outfit 
to serve on landing at their journey's end. Substantial shoes, 
and gray guernsey night-caps completed their attire. 

Next morning the whole of the draft were roused out about 
three o^clock, when they breakfasted. They were then marched 
to the reception ward, where their names were called over by 
the chief warder. Next came the "shackling,'' or chaining 
them together in gangs of ten men upon one chain, which 
chain passed through a bracelet on each man's arm. The 
same plan is pursued to this day in ordinary removals from 
prison to prison, except that a D lock is now introduced 
between every two prisoners. This practically handcuffs the 
men together two and two. Under the old system, if one 
link in the chain was cut, the whole ten were free ; now, when 
a link goes five couples only are set loose. As soon as these 
precautions were completed, the side door of the reception 
ward was opened, and the prisoners passed on to the outer 
gate, and so to the river side. 

If the embarkation was to be at low tide, old Collins, a 
well-known bargee, who had permission to make his boats fast 

* Chap. xi. 


opposite the Millbank steps, liad brought tliem some hours 
before and run them aground, so as to form a passage or 
gangway to the steam-tug. This Collins was a well-known 
character in his time. His spare hours were devoted to 
gathering up the bodies of people drowned in the Thames. 
It was said that he had secured in this way no fewer than two 
hundred corpses. The parish authorities paid him at the rate 
of ten shillings per head. It was his invariable custom, so he 
assured the coroner, to wash the face of every corpse he 
picked up and kiss it. But he did other jobs, such as 
dredging for sand, which he sold to the builders, and anything 
else that he might pick up. It was all fish that came to his 
net. On one occasion he found a bag full of sovereigns, 
upon which, so the story runs, both he and his family lived 
gloriously till the money was all gone. This piece of -luck 
proved fatal to his wife. Eeturning from one of her drinking 
bouts to her home on board a barge — for Collins occupied the 
oldest of his boats, roofed in — Mrs. Collins slipped off the 
plank into the Thames, and was picked up by her husband 
next day. He had lived all his life in this barge, rearing 
there a large family, most of whom, I believe, turned out ill. 
His daughters were, however, known as the best oarswomen 
on the river. Poor old Collins himself came to a bad end. 
He was caught in his old age, in the act of stealing coals from 
a neighbouring barge, and for this he was sentenced to six 
months' imprisonment. "When he came out the barges were 
sold, and the place knew him no more. 

But for many years he actively assisted in all embarkations 
from Millbank stairs. Of course there was a large staff of 
officials who were really responsible. In charge of all generally 
went the deputy-governor, and under him were sometimes as 
many as thirty warders. Their duties were principally to 
ensure safe custody, and to enforce silence and soberness of 
demeanour on the passage down stream. Occasionally the 
tug halted at Woolwich, to take in more passengers from the 
hulks ; more often it made the run direct to Gravesend or the 
Nore. Here, with blue peter flying and anchor atrip, was the 
prison ship waiting for its living cargo. The surgeon-super- 
intendent is on board, ready to sign receipts for the bodies of 


all committed to liis charge ; the convicts go up the sides, are 
unshackled, told off to messes, and sent below. Before mid- 
day the ship has got under weigh, and has taken her place 
among the rest of the outward bound. 

The interior fittings of all the old convict ships varied little. 
The " prison ^^ occupied the main deck. It was separated 
forward and aft by strong bulkheads, sheeted with iron. In 
the forepart the crew were lodged as usual ; aft, the military 
guard. The only access from the prison to the deck was by 
the main hatchway. This was enclosed by barred gates at 
the foot of the ladder, so that the prison within looked like 
a huge cage. A substantial bulkhead ran across the upper 
deck, so as to divide off the part used by the prisoners from 
the poop. There were doors in this, at each of which a sentry 
was always stationed. The hatches were also provided with 
stout padlocks. Down below the prison was parted off into 
"bunks" or "bays/^ as in a troop-ship, each of which had 
a table for eight men, and at night eight hammocks. For 
a long time prison ships sailed always without any special 
staff for supervision. Later a small proportion of warders 
embarked in each. During the day these officers took it in 
turn to patrol the deck and keep a general look-out. But on 
the whole, they preferred to interfere as little as possible with 
the " people.-'^ At night five convict sentries kept watch on 
deck, and were held responsible that no others came up ; but 
below, the whole of the prisoners were left always entirely to 
themselves. This, of itself, was one of the chief blots in the 
whole plan of deportation. To permit men of this class to 
herd together just as they please, is the surest method to 
encourage the spread of wickedness and vice. There may be 
some who are good, but these are certain to go to the wall. 
The tendency of any collection of human beings, it is to be 
feared, is rather to sink to the level of the worst than to rise 
to that of the best. In a ship-load of convicts, free to talk 
and associate at all hours of the day and night, the deteriora- 
tion is almost inevitable. For this reason, the elaborate 
machinery for providing for the religious wants and teaching 
of the ships sent out in later years was rendered nearly useless. 
A slight veneer of propriety in diction and demeanour might 


lie on top, but beneath, tlie real stuff was as bad as ever. 
This could not be denied even in after years, when every 
possible precaution had been taken.* It was admitted 
before the parliamentary commission on transportation in 
1861, that *^the horrors of convict ships were really past 

I cannot refrain, however, from paying a tribute here to 
one who appears to have worked wonders in the various ^ships 
he had in charge. I allude to Dr. Browning, who has himself 
given us an interesting account of his labours, and the success 
that attended them.f He was clearly a man of great piety, 
gifted also with singular earnestness of character. The 
influence of such a person cannot fail to be soon felt, especially 
in a society of which he is himself the recognised head.. 
Wonderful as were the results obtained by Dr. Browning, they 
are substantiated by the testimony of high colonial officials. 
Writing on the subject, Sir Greorge Arthur, the Lieutenant- 
Governor of Van Diemen's Land, says, " The convicts brought 
out in the Aral, in 1834, were put on board, I have every 
reason to believe, as ignorant, as profane, and in every respect 
as reckless as transported criminals usually are. But when 
they were disembarked, it was evident the character of many 
of them had undergone a most remarkable change. Their 
tempers had been subdued : they had been induced to think 
and reflect ; and they had been instructed, so as to know them, 
familiarly, in the principles of religion.^* It was said that in 
after years the convicts whom Dr. Browning reformed, seldom 
if ever fell away; but on this point I can find no reliable 
evidence. That quoted above refers only to these men at the 

* The arrangements for the conveyance of convicts by sea were never 
really put on a satisfactory footing until 1870, when the steamship' 
London was especially fitted up for the purpose of taking convicts to 
Gibraltar; a portion of her fore hold being turned into a "prison," 
in every respect the same as a separate prison on shore. Here oflBcers 
patrolled on duty day and night. This, with the rapidity of the voyage, 
reduced the chances of contamination to the lowest. 

+ The Convict Ship and England's Exiles. By C. A. Browning, M,D.,. 


moment they landed on shore, when Dr. Browning's impi'essive 
periods were still ringing in their ears. An examination of the 
parliamentary returns, however, leads me to conclude that 
instances of after misconduct, as proved by the number of 
summary and other convictions on shore, were just as plentiful 
among the men of Dr. Browning's ships as in others. 

But I should be loath to detract from Dr. Browning, who, 
besides a preacher of some power, was also a practical man 
with considerable talent for organisation. His ships must 
have been patterns of propriety and cleanliness. Yet he 
worked single-handed. The only officials under him were 
convicts chosen among the '^people," according to character 
received with them, and " the impression,'' to use his own 
words, " formed on my own mind by the expression of their 
countenances, and general demeanour." At the doctor's right 
hand was the first captain, who was at the head of the whole 
establishment ; next to him came a second captain ; and below 
them the captains of divisions. Each had his duties pre- 
scribed according to a carefully prepared scale. There were 
also appointed cooks, barber, delegates, head of messes, a 
clerk, librarian, hospital steward, and, last not least, school- 
masters and inspectors of schools. The routine of work for 
every day of the week was also laid down, and was punctually 
carried out. As a rule, after the necessary cleaning operations, 
this resolved itself almost entirely into school instruction, and 
constant exhortation from the surgeon himself. Dr. Browning 
was apparently much beloved even by those criminals; and 
his orders are said to have been readily and implicitly obeyed.. 
In return his confidence in them was so great that when he 
was attacked with serious illness he had his hammock hung 
inside on the prison deck, and gave himself up to be nursed 
, altogether by the convicts. 

In after years the example set by Dr. Browning was so 
far followed that every ship carried a religious instructor to 
teach, and perform the services — duties which every surgeon- 
superintendent could not be expected to perform, as did Dr. 
Browning. These instructors were selected from among the 
scripture readers and schoolmasters at Millbank or Pentonville^ 


and no doubt they were conscientious men, fairly anxious to do 
their best. But this best fell far short of that which an 
enthusiast of superior education like Dr. Browning could 
accomplish ; and in most of the ships, in spite of all the efforts 
of the instructors, wickedness continued to the last to reign 




Within three years of the establishment of the new system, 
already described at length, by which transportation was to 
be robbed of all its evils, the most deplorable results showed 
themselves. The condition of Van Diemen^s Land, according 
to a reliable authority, was most lamentable. It was filled to 
overflowing with convicts. There were in all 25,000, half of 
which were still in the hands of Government ; and besides 
these numbers there were 3000 pass-holders waiting for hire, 
but unable to obtain employment. The latter would be 
reinforced by as many more in the year immediately following. 
The colony itself was on the verge of bankruptcy ; its finances 
embarrassed, its trades and industries in every branch 
depressed ; with all this was a wholesale exodus of all classes 
of free people — the better orders, to avoid the ruin that stared 
them in the face, and working men, because higher wages 


were offered elsewhere in tlie neighbouring colonies. Already, 
in fact, the new system of probation had broken down. It 
had given rise to evils greater than any which it had been 
expected to replace. Not only was Van Diemen's Land itself on 
the brink of ruin, but the consequences to the convicts were 
almost too terrible to be described. Mr. Pitcairn, a resident 
of Hobart Town, raised an indignant protest, in which he 
urges that " all that the free colonists suffer, even the total 
destruction of Van Diemen's Land as a free colony, is as 
nothing to what the wretched convicts are forced to submit 
to. It is not bodily suffering that I refer to : it is the pollution 
of their minds and hearts which is forced upon them, which 
they cannot escape from. Loathsome as are the details of 
their miserable state, it is impossible to see thousands of men 
debased and depraved without at least making an attempt to 
save others from the same fate." The congregation of criminals 
in large batches without due supervision, meant simply whole- 
sale, widespread pollution. Assignment, with all its faults, 
had at least the merit of dispersing the prisoners over a wide 

But not only in its debasing effects upon the convicts 
themselves was the system quite a failure — half the scheme 
became a dead letter from the impoverished condition of 
the colony. Of what avail was it to prepare the prisoners 
gradually for honest labour when there was no labour 
upon which they could be employed? The whole gist and 
essence of the scheme was that after years of restraint the 
criminal, purged of his evil propensities, would gladly lend 
himself out for hire. But what if there were no hirers ? Yet 
this was practically the state of the case. Following inevitably 
from the unnatural over-crowding of Van Diemen's Land, 
there came a great redundancy in the labour market. Had 
the colony been thoroughly prosperous, and as big as the 
neighbouring island-continent, it could hardly have found 
employment for the thousands of convicts poured in year by 
year. But being quite the reverse — small and almost stag- 
nant — a species of deadlock was the certain result of this 
tremendous influx. To make matters worse, goaded doubtless. 


by the excessive costliness of tlie whole scheme, the Imperial 
Government insisted that all hirers should pay a tax over and 
above the regular wages for every convict engaged, and this 
whether the hirer was a private person or the public works 
department of the colony. Neither private nor public funds 
could stand this charge. In the general distress, employers 
of labour could hardly afford the moderate wages asked; 
while the local revenues were equally impecunious. Yet there 
were many works urgently needed in the colony, which the 
Colonial Government were quite disposed to execute — pro- 
vided they got their labour for nothing. But to pay for it 
was impossible. In fact, this Imperial penuriousness defeated 
its own object. The Home Government would not let out 
its labour except at a price which no one would pay; so the 
thousands who might at least have stood at their own charges, 
remained at that of the Government. They were put to raise 
produce for their own support ; but they earned nothing, and 
ate their heads off into the bargain. They had, moreover, a 
grievance. They were denied all fruition in the status to 
which, by their own conduct and according to prescribed 
rules, they arrived. They had been promised that after a 
certain probationary period they would pass into a stage of 
semi-freedom. Yet here, after all, were they in a condition 
little superior to the convicts in the gangs — in the very stage, 
that is to say, which the pass-holders had left behind them. 
The authorities had, in fact, broken faith with them. This 
was a fatal flaw in the scheme ; a link out in the chain ; a gap 
in the sequence of progressive probation enough to bring the 
whole to ruin. 

But at any rate the pass-holders were better off than the 
conditional-pardon or ticket-of-leave men. The former had 
still a lien on the Government. They were certain of food, 
and a roof over. their heads at the various hiring depots. But 
those who Were in a stage further ahead towards freedom 
were upon their own resources. These men were "thrown 
upon the world with nothing but their labour to support 
them." But no labour was in demand. What, then, was to 
become of them ? They must steal, or starve ; and as the 


outcome of either alternative, tlie community might expect 
to be weighted with a large and increasing population of 
thieves and paupers. 

Nor would any description of the main island only suffice 
to place in a proper light the actual state of affairs. Norfolk 
Island, the chief penal settlement, had deteriorated so rapidly, 
that all which was bad before, had grown to be infinitely 
and irremediably worse. A Mr. Naylor, a clergyman, writing 
about this time, paints a terrible picture of the island. 
Rules were utterly disregarded; convicts of every degree 
mingled indiscriminately on the settlement. Some of the 
prisoners had been convicted, and reconvicted, and had passed 
through every grade of punishment in hulks, chain-gangs, or 
penal settlements — among them were " flash men," who kept 
the island in awe, and bearded the commandant himself; 
bodies of from 70 to 100 often in open mutiny, refusing to 
work, and submitting only when terms had been arranged to 
their satisfaction ; the island kept in perpetual alarm ; houses 
robbed in open day, yet no successful efforts were made to 
bring the culprits to justice.* By one of these ruffians the 
commandant was deliberately knocked down, and received 
severe contusions. The state of the island might well awaken 
alarm. No time, said Mr. Naylor, should be lost in taking 
steps for the prevention of a catastrophe of the most frightful 

In 1846 a special commissioner was despatched from head- 
quarters at Hobart Town, to report from personal observation 
on the state of the settlement. It is abundantly evident from 
his report, which will be found in extenso in a Blue Book on 
convict discipline, issued in February, 1847, that some terrific 
explosion of the seething elements collected together at Norfolk 
Island might be looked for at any early day. Mr. Stewart, 
the commissioner, attributed the condition of the settlement 

* As to the immunity o£ offenders, one of the oflScials long resident 
on the island has told me that a favourite parrot with its cage was 
stolen from his house. The thief was known, and he was seen with the 
bird. More ; he kept the bird in his barrack-room, and took it daily 
with him to his work. Yet no one dared to interfere with him ! The 
bird was left in his possession, and he altogether escaped punishment. 


chiefly to the lax discipline maintained by its commandant. 
This gentleman certainly appears to have been chosen un- 
wisely. He was quite the wrong man for the place, utterly 
unfitted for the arduous duties he was called upon to perform. 
Of a weak and vacillating disposition, he seldom had the 
courage to act upon his own judgment. It was openly alleged 
that his decisions rested with his chief clerk. Most of his 
subordinates were at loggerheads with one another, but he 
never dared to settle their quarrels himself. Points the most 
trivial were referred always to head- quarters. He was equally 
wanting in resolute determination in dealing with the great 
mass of convicts who constituted the bulk of his command. 
With them he was for ever temporising and making allow- 
ances ; so that rules, never too severe, came by degrees to h& 
sensibly relaxed, till leniency grew into culpable pampering 
and childish considerateness. As might have been expected, 
the objects of his tender solicitude were utterly ungrateful. 
He interfered sometimes to soften the sentences of the sitting 
magistrate, even when they were light enough ; but his kind- 
ness was only mistaken for weakness, and the men in his 
charge became day by day more insolent and insubordinate. 
Where firmness was required in almost every particular, in 
order to maintain anything like a controlling supervision, it 
was altogether wanting. This commandant was considered by 
his supreme chief, " either from want of experience, or from 
an absence in his own character of the qualifications necessary 
to control criminals,^' to be ^Hotally unfitted for the peculiar 
situation in which he is placed." 

Of a truth, Norfolk Island was not a government to be 
entrusted to any but iron hands. That this commandant 
was clearly the wrong man for the post cannot be ques- 
tioned ; nevertheless, he was not altogether to blame for the 
existing terrible state of affairs. No doubt by his wavering 
incompetence the original condition of the island was greatly 
aggravated, but all these evils which by-and-by broke out and 
bore such noxious fruit, had been germinating long before 
his time. It had been the custom for years back to treat the 
convicts with ill-advised leniency. They had been allowed 
practically too much indulgence, and were permitted to forget 


fhat they owed their location on that island solely to their 
own grievous crimes and ofEences. They had been kept in 
order by concession, and not by stern force ; persuaded to be 
good, rather than coerced when bad. As I have already had 
occasion to remark, such a method of procedure can but have 
one result with criminals. It is viewed by them as weakness 
of which they are bound to take every advantage. Here, at 
Norfolk Island, under a loose regime, the convicts had always 
been allowed their own way : half the officers placed over 
them trafficked with them, and were their free-and-easy 
familiar friends. On the introduction of the new system, no 
attempt was made to sweep the place clean before the arrival 
of greatly increased numbers. Old officers remained, and old 
convicts ; enough of both to perpetuate the old evil ways, and 
to render them twice as harmful under the new aspect of the 
settlement. Gardens were still allowed; great freedom to 
come and go hither and thither, with no strict observance of 
bounds ; any number of private shops, whereat the convicts 
bought and sold, or bartered with each other for pork and 
vegetables and other articles of general use. Worse than 
this, the " King " was left untouched, and grew daily more 
and more powerful, till a band of some forty or fifty cut-throat 
scoundrels ruled the whole convictdom of the settlement. 
The members of this "Ring'' were in league with the cooks, 
from whom they obtained the best of food, abstracted from 
their fellow-prisoners' rations ; but no one dared to complain. 
Such was the malignant terrorism inspired by these fifty 
ruffians, that they kept the whole body of the convicts in awe, 
and their wholesale plunderings and pilferings were in practice 
long before any attempt was made to put them down. Under 
such conditions as these, the management of the convicts in 
Norfolk Island.certainly left much to be desired. 

But following Mr. Stewart's visit, a more stringent system 
was attempted, if not entirely carried out. The commandant 
was informed that he must pamper his convicts no longer. 
One by one the highly prized privileges disappeared : trafficking 
was now for the first time openly discountenanced, and the 
prisoners at length saw themselves debarred from many little 
luxuries and indulgences. A strictly coercive labour-gang 


was established ; the gardens were shut ; the limits of bounds 
rigorously enforced; and, last but not least, a firm attack was 
made upon the method of messing, to check, if possible, the 
unlawful misappropriation of food. In this measure was the 
beginning of serious trouble. It interfered directly with the 
vested interest of a small but powerful oligarchy, the members 
of which were not disposed to surrender lightly the rights 
they had so long arrogated to themselves. From the moment 
that the robberies in the cook-house had been discovered, a 
growing spirit of dissatisfaction and discontent was observable 
among the more influential prisoners. 

A second authorised attack in the same direction brought 
matters to a crisis. Not the least of the evils attending the 
old plan of messing was, that the prisoners themselves, one 
by one, were allowed access to the kitchen, where they might 
cook anything they happened to have in possession, whether 
obtained by fair means or foul. To meet these culinary 
requirements, most of the '^ flash men'' had collected pots and 
pans of various sorts, constructed chiefly from the regulation 
mess-tins and platters. It was decided as a bold stroke against 
illicit cookery, to seize every hatterie de cuisine in the place. 
Accordingly, one evening, after the convicts had been locked 
up for the night, a careful search was made through the 
lumber-yard (the mess-room, so to speak), and everything of 
illegal shape was seized. The whole of these articles were 
then and there removed to the convicts' barrack store. It 
must be remarked here that several of the officials shrunk 
from executing this duty. One free overseer, named Smith, 
who was also superintendent of the cook-house, urged that he 
was all day among the prisoners, and felt his life hardly safe 
if it were known that he had taken part in the search. Others 
demurred also ; but eventually the work was done. 

Next morning, when the convicts went to breakfast, they 
missed their highly prized kitchen utensils. Quickly a storm 
gathered, and broke forth with ungovernable fury. A great 
mass of men, numbering several hundreds, streamed at once 
)ut of the lumber-yard, and hurried towards the barrack 
stores. Everything fell before them : fastenings, woodwork, 
loorposts. There within were the cans, the cause of all this 

2 B 


coil. These they gathered up at once, and then turned back^ 
still en masse, to the lumber-yard. They were in search now 
of victims. Their thirst was for blood, and nothing less would 
quench it. They sought first the officers they hated most ; 
and chief among these was Smith, the overseer of the kitchen. 
A man named Westwood, commonly called Jacky-Jacky,*^ 
was ringleader, and marched at the head of the mutineers. 
All were armed — some with long poles, others with axes, most 
with knives. It was a case of sauve qui pent with the officers. 
There were not more than half-a-dozen constables on duty, and 
warning came to four of them too late. Smith, who had 
remained in the cook-house, was caught and murdered on the- 
spot. Another officer, Morris, was also killed. Two others- 
were struck down with mortal hurts. All the wounds inflicted 
were about the head and face. One man had his forehead cut 
open so that you might see into the cavity of the head. He 
had also a frightful gash from the eye down the cheek,, 
through which the roof of the mouth was visible. Another 
had the whole of one side of his face completely smashed in, 
from the temple to the mouth. A third unfortunate man had 
his skull fractured. All this had happened in less time than 
it takes to tell. Then the mutineers cried out for more blood. 
Leaving the lumber-yard, they made for the police huts, driving" 
the few remaining constables before them, and striking down 
all they overtook. At the police huts they smashed the 
windows and did what damage they could. They were then 
for proceeding onward. " het's get that villain Barrow,^^ was 
now the cry — Mr. Barrow being the stipendiary magistrate, 
and they hated him with especially keen hatred. They were- 
determined, so it was afterwards said, to murder every official 
on the island, and then to take to the bush. But by this time 
active opposition was close at hand. First came a military 
guard, which formed across the road, and checked all further 
advance of the mutineers. Presently Mr. Barrow himself 
appeared upon the scene with a larger detachment of troops, 
and in the presence of this exhibition of force the convicts 
retired quietly enough to their barracks. 

The strength of the storm therefore was now spent. The 

* Jacky- Jacky was by birth a gentleman, and had received a superior 


mutineers were either for the moment satisfied with their 
efforts, or — which is more probable — they were cowed by the 
troops, and felt that it was now the turn for authority to play 
its hand. Accompanied by a strong escort of soldiers, the 
stipendiary magistrate went in amongst the convicts, ex- 
amined all carefully, and then and there arrested every one 
who bore a single spot or stain of blood. Seven were thus 
singled out at once, among them Jacky-Jacky and several 
members of the ring. Forty-five others, who were strongly 
suspected of complicity in the murders, were also arrested ; 
and the whole, heavily ironed, were for immediate security 
chained together in a row to the iron runners of the boat-shed. 
But such was the alarm on the island, that the commandant 
was strenuously urged to remove these ringleaders at once to 
Van Diemen's Land. 

Indeed it was felt on all sides that there was no longer 
any safety for either life or property. The convict population 
had reached the pitch of anarchy and insubordination. It 
was indeed thought that the storm would soon break out with 
renewed fury. The success which the mutineers had won, 
would doubtless tempt them to fresh efforts. They gave 
signs too that they were ready to recommence. When the 
corpses of the murdered men were carried past the barracks 
the convicts within yelled in derision, and cried that these 
victims should not be the last. The apprehension was so 
great that some officials maintained that the convicts ought to 
remain immured in their barracks until a reinforcement of 
troops arrived. There were some, too, who doubted the 
loyalty of the soldiers, saying that the troops would yet 
make common cause with the convicts. But this was never 
proved. What was really evident, was that the soldiers were 
harassed and overworn by the incessant duties they had been 
called upon recently to perform. They had been continually 
under arms, and were often on guard six nights out of the 
seven. Fortunately Sir Eardly Wilmot, Governor of Van 
Diemen's Land, had acted on Mr. Stewart's representations, 
and had despatched reinforcements long before this, which 
landed on the island a day or two after the actual outbreak. 
The most serious dangers were therefore at an end. 

But the state of Norfolk Island called for some radical 

2 E 2 


reformatory measures. If anything further liad been needed 
to prove tlie incompetence of tlie commandant^ it was to be 
found in his latest proceedings. Sudden changes, passing 
from laxity to strictness, had been made in the regulations ; 
yet no precautionary measures were taken to meet that violent 
resistance which the convicts had long openly threatened. 
The last act of authority, the removal of the cooking utensils, 
should at least have been backed by an imposing exhibition of 
armed force. It was, indeed, time to substitute new men and 
new measures. The Hobart Town executive council resolved 
unanimously to suspend the commandant and to replace him 
by Mr. Price, the police magistrate of Hobart Town, a gentle- 
man of " knowledge, firmness, and long experience with the 
convict population in this island." His instructions were 
precise. He was to disarm the convicts and take from them 
the knives they habitually carried ; to make all wear, without 
distinction, the convict dress; to compel close observance to 
Divine Service ; to institute messes, regulate the muster, 
insist upon exact obedience to all rules, and above all, to 
attend the due separation of the convicts at night. By close 
attention to these regulations it was hoped that peace and 
good order would soon be restored to the settlement. 

At the same time condign punishment was meted out to 
the mutineers. A judge went down post-haste to the island, 
a court was formed immediately on his arrival, trials pro- 
ceeded with, and fourteen were hanged the same day. This 
salutary example, with the measures promptly introduced by 
Mr. Price, soon restored order to the island. The new com- 
mandant was undoubtedly a man of great courage and decision 
of character. He acted always for himself, and looked into 
everything with his own eyes. Being perpetually on the 
move about the settlement, nothing escaped him. Frequently 
when he met convicts, though he might have with him only 
one constable as orderly, he would halt them, and search them 
from head to foot. If they had knives or other forbidden 
articles, he impounded them forthwith; saying as often as 
not, "I'll have you to understand, my men, that in twelve 
months you shall see a gold watch upon the road and yet not 
pick it up." Under his able government the evils of Norfolk 


Island were sensibly lessened ; but nothing could wash the 
place clean. So convinced was the Imperial Government of 
this, that they had resolved, even before the news of the 
mutiny, to break up the settlement. But after that, positive 
instructions were sent out to carry this into effect, and by 
degrees the place was altogether abandoned. 

Indeed, the results of " probation, -"^ as they had shown 
themselves, were far from ignored at home, and the members 
of successive administrations had sought anxiously to provide 
some remedy for evils so plainly apparent. Mr. Gladstone 
among others, when Under - Secretary of State for the 
Colonies, propounded an elaborate scheme for the establish- 
ment of a new settlement in North Australia. This new 
colony was to provide an outlet for the overplus in labour, 
which at that time in Van Diemen's Land choked up every 
avenue to employment. " It was founded " — I will use 
Mr. Gladstone's own words — "as a receptacle for convicts 
who, by pardon or lapse of time, have regained their freedom, 
but who may be unable to find elsewhere an effective demand 
for their services.''' It was to be a colony of emancipists. 
The earliest settlers would be exiles sent out from England, 
with whose assistance the governor of the new colony was 
to prepare for the arrival of the rest from Van Diemen's 
Land. The first points which would re|q[uire attention, were 
the selection of the best sites for a town and harbour, the 
reservation of certain Crown lands, and the distribution of the 
rest to the various sorts of settlers. All these points were fully 
discussed and provided for minutely by Mr. Gladstone. Every 
other detail was equally well arranged. As economy was to be 
the soul of the new settlement, its oflScials were to rank lower 
than those of other colonies. The governor was to be styled 
only superintendent, and the judge, chairman of quarter sessions. 
The whole settlement was to be subordinate to New South 
Wales. And, as the word " convict " was somewhat unsavoury 
to the Australian colonists, Mr. Gladstone provided also for 
this. In anticipation of the possible objections of the people 
of New South Wales to the establishment of a new convict 
settlement on the continent of Australia, Mr. Gladstone put 
his foot down firmly, and declared he would admit no such 


protest. " Ifc would be witli sincere regret," he says, " that 
I should learn that so important a body of Her Majesty's 
subjects were inclined to oppose themselves to the measures 
I have thus attempted to explain. Any such opposition must 
be encountered by reminding those from whom it might 
proceed, in terms alike respectful and decided, that it is 
impossible that Her Majesty should be advised to surrender 
what appears to be one of the vital interests of the British 
Empire at large, and one of the chief benefits which the 
British Empire can at present derive from the dominion which 
we have acquired over the vast territories of the Crown in 
Australia. I think that by maintaining such a colony as a 
depot of labour, available to meet the local wants of the older 
colony, or to find employment for the capital accumulated 
there, we may rather promote than impede the development 
of the resources of New South Wales. But even if that hope 
should be disappointed, I should not, therefore, be able to 
admit that the United Kingdom was making an unjust or 
unreasonable exercise of the right of sovereignty over those 
vast regions of the earth, in thus devoting a part of them to 
the relief of Van Diemen's Land, and consequently to render 
that island the receptacle for as many convicts as it may be 
hereafter necessary to transport there. Having practically 
relieved New South Wales, at no small inconvenience to our- 
selves, from the burden (as soon as it became a burden) of 
receiving convicts from this country, we are acquitted of any 
obligations in that respect which any colonist, the most 
jealous for the interests of his native or adopted country, 
could ascribe to us." 

But it never came to this. No antagonism in this instance 
ever arose between the Colonial and Imperial Governments, 
for Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues just then went out of 
power, and the project of the new colony in North Australia 
was given up by the new ministry. Earl Grey, who succeeded 
Lord Stanley at the Colonial Office, wrote at once to the 
Governor of New South Wales to declare that the new cabinet 
dissented from the views of the late administration. They 
considered the formation of a settlement in North Australia 
impolitic and unnecessary, and they revoked, therefore, the 


Setters patent under wliicTi it had been constituted. But they 
had also their own ideas. The great question remained 
unsolved, and they attacked it with more originality,, perhaps, 
and greater determination than their predecessors. From 
their treatment of the subject resulted the third and last 
system of carrying out transportation. 

They had to deal with the question in two phases : first, 
the evils actually in existence from the over-crowding of Van 
Diemen^s Land must be mitigated, if they could not be 
removed: and secondly, some plan must be adopted to 
obviate their recurrence in the future. The first point was 
touched by suspending transportation altogether for two 
years. The stream thus checked, would have to be directed 
elsewhere ; but in the meantime. Van Diemen's Land would 
be relieved : in the course of two years the probation-gangs 
would be emptied, and the great labour pressure caused by 
the crowds of pass-holders would have disappeared. To deal 
still further with the actual difficulty, new and able men were 
appointed as administrators : Sir William Denison was to go 
•out as governor, and Mr. Hampton comptroller-general of 
'Convicts. The former, an engineer officer of wide experience, 
accustomed to deal with large works and large bodies of men, 
would, it was hoped, find new outlets for the superabundant 
labour ; while the latter had been long connected with convicts 
•as a surgeon-superintendent of convict ships, and his energy 
and knowledge were already well proved. The measures 
which these two working in concert were expected to carry 
out were indicated in a lengthy despatch. They consisted 
chiefly in a careful revision of the discipline of the probation- 
gangs and insisted on the construction without delay of prisons, 
wherein each man was provided with a separate cell for him- 
self. This would supply work for many hands ; the surplus 
were to be employed in raising stock for the whole body, and 
in building villages for the occupation of labourers — mostly 
ticket-of-leave men — and their families. Lastly, all demands 
made by the local Government for labour to carry out colonial 
public works were to be complied with, and for this labour no 
.charge was now to be made. On the whole, the plans devised 
for the management of the convict population already in the 


colonies, were based on intelligent principles, and they were 
in a measure successful. So much, for the first point. 

The second embraced a wider field. The Government was 
bound, not only to provide for the thousands with which it 
had saddled itself by the cessation of transportation to Van 
Diemen's Land for a couple of years, but it had to look further 
ahead and legislate for all the years to come. To Sir George 
Grey, the Home Secretary, the task was confided ; and the 
plan he proposed, with the arguments by which he arrived at 
his decision, shall now be described. 

Transportation, as it had hitherto been understood and 
carried out, was now to come to an end. Although two years 
only had been the limit of its temporary suspension. Sir George 
Grey admitted at once, that any expectation of recurring to 
the old system at the end of that period, was "altogether 
illusory." He then proceeds to discuss the question. 

So far, within the term transportation two distinct punish- 
ments had been comprised. One was pure exile; the other 
penal labour, whether under Government or an assigned 
master.* In the new arrangements these leading features 
were retained. Exile was of course a punishment felt as such 
by many of those sentenced to it : a fact proved by the frequent 
petitions from the friends of convicts that it might be remitted, 
and by the anxiety shown by the exiles to obtain full pardon 
— in other words, permission to return home. Yet simple 
exile of itself could be no sufficient punishment, seeing 
that thousands of our fellow-countrymen — free emigrants, that 
is to say — voluntarily submitted to it. To sentence criminals 
to nothing more would therefore be a simple absurdity. Hence, 
through all the systems of deportation, enforced labour and 
restricted liberty had accompanied the actual removal beyond 
the seas. But penal labour, as such, could nofc be effectually 
carried out at a great distance. This had been proved already by 
the failure, first of assignment, and latterly the collapse of the 
plan of probation. But what if this penal labour were carried 
out at home ? In every way the resultant advantage was 
plain. Supervision could be near at hand, correction of abuses 

* Earl Grey : Colonial Policy, vol. ii. p. 14, et seqq. ; from which I 
quote largely in the paragraphs that follow. 


immediate, and tlie establishments would be governed by 
officials who from first to last might be drawn from a superior 
class. And here, at length, the authorities struck a key-note. 
They were at length approaching the proper solution of the 
question, though it was forced on them rather by the practical 
logic of circumstances, than obtained by exhaustive deduction. 
By adopting this principle. Lord John Russell's Government 
created in the germ our present penal system. 

The new system, stated briefly, was to consist of a limited 
period of separate imprisonment, succeeded by employment on 
public works, either abroad at Bermuda or Gibraltar, or in 
this country; and ultimately followed in ordinary cases by 
exile or banishment for the remaining term of the original 
sentence. Lord Grey thus describes what would now be the 
convict's career : 

1. A term of separate confinement, continuing from six 
to eighteen months, according to sentence and the manner 
prisoners bore the punishment. 

2. Forced labour at home penal establishments, or at Gib- 
raltar or Bermuda ; this term to depend also on sentence, but 
the time by arrangement of tasks might be shortened by 

3. Ticket-of -leave in the colonies. 

This, the new system, was certainly symmetrical, nor was 
any portion of it too high-flown for execution. The difficulty 
at first lay in the insufficiency of means for carrying out the 
first two stages. Pentonville prison, which had been in 
existence now since 1842, contained only a limited number of 
cells ; however, there was Millbank to relieve the pressure for 
separate confinement. But places for penal labour did not 
exist, nor could they be improvised in a day. Eventually 
Portland came to be built, and advantage was taken of the 
old French prisons on the wilds of Dartmoor. But these two 
establishments, of which I shall speak more at length in the 
next chapter, could not in themselves absorb the thousands 
that multiplied on Government hands. Then Bermuda was 
pressed into the scheme, Gibraltar also; and provision was 
made for the accommodation in these two imperial colonies of 
numbers varying from two thousand to two thousand five 


hundred. It must be remarked that the very objections to 
penal establishment beyond the seas were repeated here at 
•Gibraltar and Bermuda. Both these stations were too distant 
from home for effective supervision; and in 1862 Bermuda 
■ceased to be a penal station, while now as I write the Gibraltar 
convict prison is on its last legs.* But they served their 
purpose for a time. Any convenient outlet was readily 
accepted in those two years when transportation to Yan 
Diemen's Land was suspended. As many as 6000 convicts 
■accumulated even in that short space of time, and those 
numbers were greatly augmented by the increased convictions 
due to the Irish famine. But, as I have said, the provisions 
made, whether at Portland or Dartmoor, at Gibraltar or 
Bermuda, were a makeshift only and far from complete. It 
has taken five-and-twenty years to provide sufficient accommo- 
dation, and put the home penal establishments on a thoroughly 
satisfactory footing. 

The third stage was, however, the most distinctive part of 
Sir George Grey's new scheme, and in it we see the last 
vestige of transportation — all that remained, as piece by 
piece, inch by inch, the old system was hacked away by 
trenchant necessary reforms. " In considering the question 
•of transportation,^^ says Sir George Grey, "one important 
point has been overlooked, viz., the distinction between the 
fitness of the Australian colonies as places for the reception of 
criminals after having undergone their punishment, and as 
places in which transportation is itself to be inflicted. There 
can be no doubt that new and thinly peopled settlements, in 
which there is a large demand for additional labour, possess 
^reat advantages over a densely populated country, such as 
Great Britain and Ireland, for the reception of convicts after 
they have undergone their punishment. In this country, men 
regaining their liberty on the expiration of a penal sentence, 
•often find great difficulty in obtaining an honest livelihood. 
In the general competition for employment, character, 

* Since these sheets have gone to press, the Home Secretary (Mr. 
Cross) has annonnced in the House of Commons that the convict estab- 
lishment at Gibraltar is to be broken up at once, and the prisoners 
fcrought home to be located in various English convict prisons. 


naturally and properly, secures a preference to men un- 
tainted with crime ; and the discharged convict is liable to be 
thrown back upon a criminal course of life from the inability 
to procure employment by which he can honestly maintain 
himself. In the colonies, on the other hand, where labour is 
in great demand, this difficulty is not experienced, and the 
opportunity is afforded to the convict, on the termination of 
his sentence, of entering on a new career with advantages 
which he could not possess in this country, and of his becom- 
ing a useful member of society." This reasoning was no 
doubt sound. The colonies might be unsuited for the enforce- 
ment of purely penal labour, but they were "admirably 
adapted for the reception of criminals, whom it is desirable, 
both for their own sake and that of society, to remove, after 
their punishment has been completed, from being again 
brought into a criminal course of life in this country by the 
difficulties and dangers to which they are unavoidably 
subject, but from which in the colonies they are in a great 
measure exempt."* Accordingly, in this third stage the 
convicts, including all male adults fit for the voyage, were 
sent out to Van Diemen's Land, not as transported criminals, 
but simply as exiles. On arrival they remained in the hands 
of Government till they were engaged by settlers, when the 
conditions of hiring ^were much what they had been in the 
days of probation. The object being to assimilate the posi- 
tion of the exile to that of the assigned servant, except when 
assignment was open to objection. Great things were ex- 
pected of these exiles. Chastened and toned down by their 
home discipline, it was hoped that their behaviour would be 
the admiration of all beholders. This expectation was not 
entirely borne out by the results. In spite of many flourish- 
ing statements to the contrary, the conduct of these exiles was 
not altogether exemplary ; so much so, that the conditional 
pardons with which they were first provided, had to be 
altered to tickets -of -leave ; substituted because, as holders of 
the latter, they might still be subjected to some discipline 
and restraint. But the blame did not arise in actual error 
in the system, but only that too much was expected from it. 
* Earl Grey : Colonial Policy. 


The authorities had not yet learnt that no amount of penal 
discipline will ever change the criminars character. He may 
promise to be good in future; his punishment may leave 
behind it a certain terror, which while it is remembered may 
keep him out of mischief, but the man remains at heart much 
the same. 

Nevertheless, this method of ultimately disposing of the 
convict population was, as far as it went, distinctly successful. 
That it did not go farther, and that it is not still the custom, 
is probably the fault of the colonists themselves. Within a 
year or two of the establishment of the system, Van Diemen^s 
Land waxed virtuous, and would have no more convicts, 
whether whitewashed or not, at any price. But a more 
detailed reference to this will be reserved for the next chapter. 




The changes introduced by Sir George Grey, to which I 
have referred at the close of the last chapter, remained in 
force, v^ith certain important alterations, for a number of 
years following. They were modified to meet changing 
circumstances, but this was effected without attracting much 
attention. The years were eventful ; the country was busy ; 
war with a great power ; India for a time in jeopardy ; the 
map of Europe in process of alteration — grave questions like 
these closely occupied the public mind. It might have been, 
too, that people were a little sick of secondary punishment, 
and were content to leave the problem in the hands of officials 


whose duty it was to deal with it. The management of 
prisons, as I have had occasion to point out on an earlier 
page, is rather a dull theme ; and its discussion, where it 
can be, is avoided. How long this indifference might have 
continued it is impossible to conjecture, but all at once there 
fell upon us a panic that must still be fresh in the minds of 
most of us. It is only when touched by the sharp sense of 
personal insecurity that people are universally roused to take 
an interest in such affairs. The moment came at length when 
— in presence of a real or imaginary danger — we woke to the 
fact that our penal system was all a mistake. 

It was in the winter of 1862 that robberies with violence 
— garrote robberies,, as they were called — suddenly increased 
to such an alarming extent, and were accompanied with such 
hideous details of brutality, that general consternation pre- 
vailed. The streets of London were less safe^ said the leading 
journal, than Athens in the throes of revolution and under 
no government at all. Ours was the most insecure capital 
of Europe. No man could walk abroad, even in crowded 
thoroughfares, without feeling that he carried both his life 
and his money in his hand. Both might be wrested from 
him by an insidious malefactor before the victim was even 
conscious of his danger. On all sides instances of these 
treacherous assaults multiplied; and though varying some- 
what in their method of execution, each and every one of them 
belonged unmistakably to the same class of crime. One day we 
heard that a young lady of fifteen had been attacked in 
Westbourne Crescent in the afternoon. She was half throttled, 
and a pistol held to her head, while they rifled her pockets, 
and tried to tear off her necklace, and the pendants from her 
ears. Her head was to have been shorn, too, of its magnificent 
hair, which, as one of the ruffians cried, would certainly fetch 
a goodish sum; but just then the sound of approaching 
wheels frightened these human vultures from their helpless 
quarry. Next a poor old woman, a feeble tottering creature 
advanced in years, was knocked down and wantonly maltreated 
for the half-dozen coppers she carried in her pocket. 

These attacks were made at all hours and in all neighbour- 
hoods. Daylight was no protection^ nor the crowds in a 


thoroughfare. One gentleman was felled to the ground in 
the afternoon near Paternoster Eow, another in Holborn, a 
third in Cockspur Street. Later on, at night, the dangers of 
course multiplied a hundred-fold. Poor musicians, tramping 
home after performing in some theatrical orchestra, were 
knocked down and robbed of their instruments as well as 
their cash. It was a service of danger to be seen taking the 
money at the door of any entertainment. A gang of garroters, 
for instance, had their eye on Michael Murray all night as he 
stood at the door of the Teetotal Hall in Chelsea, and as soon 
as he left for home, they followed with stealthy step till they 
overtook him in Sloane Square and knocked him down, having 
first throttled and rifled him. If you stood still in the street,. 
and refused to stand drink to any man who accosted you, he 
would probably then and there give you a hug. Those who 
took a delight in attending public executions did so at their 
own peril. A Mr. Bush, who was standing in front of the Old 
Bailey when Cooper was hanged, was hustled by several men, 
who first forced his hands up over his head, then unbuttoned 
his coat and stole his watch. 

In every case, whether the victim resisted or was resigned, 
he was nearly certain to be shamefully ill-used. Now and 
then the biter was bit, as when three men fell upon a certain 
foreign gentleman who carried a sword, and was a master of 
the art of self-defence j or when another, who knew how to 
hit out, was attacked by two ruffians, both of whom he 
knocked down. But as a general rule the victim suffered 
tortures. "When down on the ground as often as not he was 
kicked about the face and head, usually with savage violence, 
his teeth were knocked down his throat, his eyes closed, and 
he was left insensible, streaming with blood. In most cases 
there was every appearance that the outrage was deliberately 
planned beforehand. There were accomplices — women some- 
times; and all were banded together like Hindoos, as Tlie 
Times put it, sworn to the practice of "Thuggee.'' For 
months these crimes continued to be prevalent. Every morn- 
ing's news chronicled " more outrages in the streets ; " more 
and yet more ; till, as the fogs of November settled down on 
the devoted heads of the honest inhabitants of London, men's 


hearts failed tliem for fear, and life in sequestered street or 
retired suburban villa seemed bardly wortb an hour's purchase. 
Every journal teemed with complaints; Ptmc7^ took up the 
question with grim humour ; at the theatres audiences roared 
at Mr. Toole, then shuddered to think they had still to get 
home after the play was over. 

At length the horrors of garroting culminated in the 
arraignment of a crowd of such offenders in one batch at the 
Central Criminal Court. There were seven-and-twenty of 
them. The cases of all bore a certain family likeness; though 
differing somewhat in detail, there was in each the same 
insidious method of attack, followed by the same brutality 
and wanton violence. Speaking to the most hardened, the 
judge. Baron Bramwell, said, as he passed sentence, that it 
was his belief that they were " utterly destitute of morality, 
shame, religion, or pity, and that if they were let loose they 
would do what any savage animal would do, namely, prey 
upon their fellows." Therefore he was resolved to keep them 
out of mischief as long as he possibly could. All got heavy 
sentences, ranging from ^'life^' downwards, and all were 
consigned to Millbank, where they are still well remembered — 
strong, able-bodied, determined-looking scoundrels ; quite top- 
sawyers in the trade of thieving, ready for any kind of daring 
work, treating their incarceration with the utmost contempt, 
as indeed they might, for it was nothing new to them. One 
or two had graduated in crime during the days of the Peni- 
tentiary; but neither Mr. Nihil nor any one else had suc- 
ceeded in reforming them. One had actually at one time 
been an officer, a warder, in this very prison. Formerly a 
soldier in the Marines, Leat's career had been rather 
chequered. He had been present at the siege of St. Jean 
dAcre, and was at that time servant to an officer in the 
fleet, through whom he obtained his situation at Millbank, 
from which he was soon dismissed for drunkenness. After 
this he went rapidly to the bad; was caught, and sen- 
tenced for obtaining goods under false pretences, next for 
robbing a lady at Richmond Park, and now for the third time 
he entered prison as a garroter. Although they maintained 
throughout, from the moment of their capture, in the dock 


and after sentence, an insolent and defiant demeanour, yet 
in the prison these murderous rogues conducted themselves 
fairly well ; only two of them got into serious trouble. These 
were Dixon and another, Needham, who together made a 
vigorous attempt to escape. Dixon cut out, by means of a 
sharpened nail, the panel in his cell door, unbolted it, got out, 
and then set Needham also free. Their idea was to surprise 
the officer as night patrol, and seize his keys. "With this 
object they concealed themselves behind a passage door, and 
as he appeared struck him behind the ear. Fortunately the 
blow fell light, and the officer turned to grapple with the 

Such were the men, and such the work they did. Was it 
strange that the public should complain of a system of penal 
repression which left us to the tender mercies of ruffians like 
these ? We had abandoned transportation — and what had we 
got in exchange ? A system which as now administered had 
" completely failed.'^ * " It may have been a necessity, but it 
clearly has not been a success. We may perhaps be compelled 
to retain, or even to extend it ; but its administration must be 
altered. As it is it has no terrors whatever for the evil-doer, 
while it gives but little protection to society," f So spake 
The Times ; and, as may be supposed, it spared no pains to 
support its views with tangible evidence. Its columns teemed 
with letters on the subject, and special correspondents visited 
the chief convict establishments to spy out their nakedness 
and report their inefficacy as places for the punishment of 
criminals. Convicts, it was agreed on all sides, quite scoffed 
at the terrors of penal servitude. Bar the loss of actual liberty, 
which is doubtless the dearer to a man the closer he approaches 
to a lower species of animal, the convict prison was made so 
comfortable to the convict that he was loath to leave it, and 
hardly dreaded to return. Well-housed, well-fed, with labour 
just sufficient to ensure good digestion and a healthy circulation 
of the blood; debarred only by a fiction of the luxuries he 
chiefly loved ; let loose from prison as soon as he chose to 
evince signs of amendment, a convict was altogether master 
of the situation. So said the critics. Penal servitude was 
* Times, Dec. 6, 1862. f Ibid. 

2 P 


like going down into the country after " the season/' A little- 
slow, perhaps ; but very healthy and re-invigorating after a 
racket in town — just the discipline, in fact, to which men 
careful of themselves are ready to submit for a time, so as to 
issue forth afterwards braced and strengthened for a fresh 
campaign of pleasure. In these retired residences there was 
rest for ' the tired thief, for the burglar whose nerves had 
suffered, for the playful miscreant who had been able only to 
half kill his victim, and who wished to recruit his strength. 
Here they found congenial society, such as a man meets at 
his club : others of his own set, with whom he could chat 
about the past, or concoct new plans for the future. His 
creature comforts were well looked after ; he never worked, as 
free labourers did, in the rain ; and if by mischance he did 
wet his feet, there were dry stockings for him on his return to 
his cosy well-warmed cell. If he had any special "whims"' 
which called for gratification, an attentive official almost fore- 
stalled his wish. The leading feature of the whole system waa- 
to keep the convict comfortable and contented. 

All this, and more, the panic-stricken public, speaking 
through the press, threw in the teeth of the authorities. Reform' 
was called for loudly ; trenchant and immediate reform. If 
the system of penal servitude was at fault, then must we recur 
to transportation beyond the seas. It is almost amusing to- 
notice how, in their terror, those who were most urgent in 
their cry for renewed transportation, forgot the complete- 
collapse of that method of punishment only a few years before. 
Blinded by what they deemed a pressing danger, they ignored 
past experience ; the evils of assignment had faded from 
memory, and likewise the atrocities of the probation-gangs^ 
All that was present and plain was, that far away from 
England lay other lands, whereon the sewage might be shot 
as heretofore ; and that such a removal of the criminal classes 
would rid the mother country of its ruffians and all its alarm. 
But no sooner was this proposal formulated than difficulties of 
execution came at once to the front. The colonies, Queens- 
land among others, which had been declared most anxious to 
receive convicts, entirely repudiated the idea, 'and asked very 
pertinently whether they might be permitted in return to- 


transport their own malefactors to the British Isles ? Then 
the geographers began to search out new countries suitable for 
penal settlements. One suggested the Falkland Islands; 
another, New Guinea, while Labrador by many was felt to be 
just the place for colonization. 

Happily none of these suggestions went beyond the merest 
proposals. Had practical effect been given to any scheme for 
the re-establishment of penal colonies, it would have been met 
at once by the objection of expense. Of the excessive costli- 
ness of transportation there is no manner of doubt. In 1843 
in Van Diemen's Land alone the expenditure on convicts was 
£300,000, and years of patient economy only brought it down 
to £240,000 in 1848. This sum was but a fraction of the 
whole outlay ; in addition, the home depots, those still 
retained in Australia, Gibraltar, and Bermuda, had to be paid 
for. So that speaking roughly, the convicts as a body cost 
half a million of money. To-day we manage the whole of our 
convicts for £350,000, while the value of the work done, as 
measured, amounts to £220,000.* There is thus some tangible 
return for all the outlay ; but in a young penal settlement the 
money is simply poured into a sieve. By-and-by, perhaps, by 
the creation of new markets and new dependencies, the mother 
country may benefit to some extent ; but these are but indirect 
gains after all, and the time of fruition may be indefinitely 
delayed. However much, then, the public might clamour for 
a renewal of transportation, that it was clearly impracticable 
was evident to all who approached the question with calmness 
and deliberation. Yet the difficulty remained. Penal servi- 
tude was felt to be inefficient — what remedy was to be applied ? 
Here obviously was work for a Eoyal Commission; and a 
Eoyal Commission composed of capable and experienced men 

* Here are otlier figures, taken from Colonel Jebb's report of 1851 : 
1 Gross cost of transportation, with convict prisons in Great 
Britain and Ireland, Bermuda, Gibraltar, and Western 

Australia £587,294 

Net cost, after deducting value of labour 419,476 

2. Gross cost of an assumed maximum of 17,250 males, and 
1200 female convicts at home, and at Gibraltar, Bermuda, 

and Western Australia 370,750 

Net cost, after deducting value of labour 195,700 

2 F 2 


was thereupon appointed, "which, in truth did excellent service. 
Of the labours of this commission, and the conclusions arrived 
at, I shall speak by-and-by more at length ; let us pause now 
for a moment to consider what was the real meaning of this 
penal servitude, which was so much abused on every side. 
Did it indeed deserve to be called inefficient, if not entirely 
a failure ? 

Some years had elapsed since transportation had quite 
come to an end ; since Van Diemen's Land, following suit to 
New South Wales, elected to forego the advantages of cheap 
labour, rather than be inundated any longer with our convicts. 
After two years' suspension, transportation thither had been 
resumed in 1850 in a modified form. The men sent out were 
those, who having been subjected already to penal discipline 
at home, were deemed to be purged and purified. But the 
people of Van Diemen's Land would not have them at any 
price, nor in any shape or form. Although pains were taken 
to explain that these were well-disposed " ticket-of-leave men," 
not convicts, their reception was violently opposed. A struggle 
ensued, but in the end the Imperial Government gave way, 
and the last convict ship sailed for Van Diemen's Land in 
1852. While we cannot withhold approval of the course the 
colony adopted, there is no doubt that it was almost suicidal. 
Mr. Trollope, who visited Van Diemen's Land, now known as 
Tasmania, in 1871, describes in graphic language the conse- 
quences to the colony of its magnanimous conduct. Absolute 
stagnation and want of enterprise everywhere apparent, the 
skeletons of great works in ruins, others half finished doomed 
to decay for want of hands, land relapsing into uncultivation, 
towns deserted, grass growing in the streets — the whole place 
lifeless and inert. Possibly, if the question were again put, 
the answer would be in different terms. But in 1850 the 
discomforts entailed by transportation were so recent and dis- 
agreeable, that these colonists could not be brought to believe 
that by a better system of administration such evils might be 
altogether avoided. 

Nor were the people of Van Diemen's Land singular in 
their resolve. Even before they had in plain language so 
declined, other colonies had displayed a similar unmistakable 


reluctance to become receptacles for convicts. As early as 
1848, Earl Grey, in search of new fields for transportation, 
had addressed a circular to all colonial governors, pointing out 
in persuasive periods, the advantages to be gained by accept- 
ing this valuable labour which, nevertheless, no one cared to 
have. Strange to say, only one colony — that of Western 
Australia — replied affirmatively to this appeal. At the Cape 
of Good Hope, the appearance of a convict ship in 1849 pro- 
duced a tumultuous and indignant protest.* At other places 
the bent of the colonial mind made itself equally unmistakable, 
so that it was at length openly announced in the House of 
Commons, that unless our colonial possessions grew more 
amenable, transportation must cease. 

As all these various questions covered a period of several 
years, it can hardly be said that the crisis which necessitated 
change came suddenly or all at once. The Government was 
loath to surrender till the very last the idea of maintaining 
the existing system or something like it, but they were not 
without fair warning that they were building on hopes 
delusive and insecure. And it is evident that throughout the 
period of doubt, they gave the question the most anxious 
care, although the evident disposition was more towards 
tinkering up what was rickety and useless, than substituting 
a radically new plan. To this, no doubt, they were in a 
measure forced. The mere idea of retaining a large mass of 

* It was in September, 1849, that the Neptune convict ship reached 
Cape Town from Bermuda. The moment her arrival was signalled, the 
church bells began to toll half- minute time, and a public notice was put 
forth by the anti-convict association, calling on the people to be calm. 
At the same time the municipal commissioners addressed the Governor, 
Sir Harry Smith, begging that the Neptune might be forthwith ordered 
to leave the shores of the Cape. " The convicts," they said, " must not, 
cannot, and shall not be landed or kept in any of the ports of the colony." 
Sir Harry's answer was that he must carry out his orders ; upon which 
the people drew a cordon round the ship and cut off supplies from 
Government House, so that His Excellency could get no meat, and had 
to bake bis own bread. Finally, he agreed to compromise, and the 
Neptune was allowed to remain in the Bay till a vessel could be sent 
home for instructions. The authorities at home considered the op- 
position at the Cape too serious to be resisted, and directed the Ne;ptune 
elsewhere. — Annual Register. 


convicts at home was hailed by tlie public with alarm ; and it 
became almost an axiom that offenders sooner or later, but as 
a rule inevitably, must be banished from the country. This 
was the underlying principle of every scheme. The convicts 
must be removed to a distance, not necessarily as a punish- 
ment — it might be as a boon to themselves — but in any case 
as a benefit to their country. In point of symmetry the 
method is undoubtedly admirable; theoretically perfect now 
as it was then. The assisted emigration of discharged 
prisoners supplies the easiest means of providing them with 
that honest labour which is supposed to preserve them from a 
relapse into crime. But whether as freemen, exiles, or con- 
victs in chains, they were all indelibly branded with the 
stigma of their guilt, and we cannot even now find a country 
ready to receive them. At the time of which I am writing 
the resolute attitude of all the colonies, save one, compelled 
us to reconsider our position. We were forced, in fact, though 
sorely against the grain, to make the best of a bad bargain 
and keep nearly all our convicts at home. These might be 
taken in round numbers to average some eight thousand — 
the largest proportion in England, a few hundreds only at 
Bermuda and Gibraltar. What was to be done with them ? 

Fortunately a solution of the difficulty was not far to seek. 
It was to be found in the new prison at Portland, which had 
been called into existence as part of Sir George Grey^s scheme 
to purify " probation ; " and the nucleus or germ thus sup- 
plied was capable of indefinite development as needs might 
arise. It would be incorrect to assert that the Portland 
Breakwater owes its origin to this vexed " convict question,'^ 
inasmuch as years before, in 1843, that is to say when 
'' probation " was still in full swing of supposed success, the 
Select Committee on Harbours of Refuge had warmly advo- 
cated the construction of some such work in Portland Bay. 
The objects of this great national undertaking — now in the 
lapse of years become an actually accomplished fact — were to 
secure a naval station in war, and at the same time to " afford 
shelter and safety to the commercial marine in the long line of 
coast extending from Plymouth and Torbay, to Portsmouth 
and the Downs." Materials for the work lay close at hand. 


Portland quarries were filled with vast heaps of refuse stone 
■exactly suited for the work; this stone was the debris, the 
inferior strata which had in all cases to be first removed 
before the ^^best bed" was reached, wherein lay that superior 
■quality of which St. Paul's, Whitehall, and other edifices are 
a standing advertisement to this day. All this had been fully 
discussed by the Select Committee ; and the Portland works 
were finally decided just before this convict difficulty cropped 
•up. But here indeed was an additional and a stronger argu- 
ment to recommend the undertaking. Two birds would in 
fact be killed by the same stone. The convicts otherwise 
redundant would be profitably employed, and a great harbour- 
would be constructed at a distinct saving to the public. No 
wonder that Sir James Graham grasped at Portland as a 
drowning man might at a straw. But in reality he found a 
substantial life-buoy rather than a straw, and by means of it 
-came safe to shore. 

The execution of the scheme was entrusted to Colonel Jebb 
»of the Royal Engineers, who was already well known in con- 
nection with prison building and generally with penal legisla- 
tion. He had for some years past been associated with the 
two official inspectors of prisons ; after that he had assisted in 
the superintendence of Millbank, when constituted a convict 
depot, and he had been in reality the moving spirit of the 
commissioners who built the " model " prison at Pentonville. 
In those early years he gave undoubted earnest of his energetic 
character and great powers, a promise hei'eafter more than 
fulfilled. Colonel Jebb's task was in the first instance to 
provide accommodation of some sort on the island of Portland 
wherein the convicts might be securely lodged immediately 
adjoining their works. He describes, in a memorandum dated 
1847, the style of place he proposes to build. Naturally, he 
says, when the works on which the prisoners are to be em- 
ployed are likely to be completed within a limited time^ some- 
thing less costly than a substantial prison would suffice. Safe 
-custody, and the due enforcement of discipline must of course 
be secured; but these might be obtained without any 
very extravagant outlay. He suggested, therefore, buildings 
■on wooden frames, with corrugated iron partitions ; the whole 


so constructed as to be easily taken to pieces and removed to 
another site if required. In these buildings the convicts might 
be kept safe and separate, at the probable cost of little more 
than £34 per cell. Similar prisons might be run up anywhere, 
so that the whole number of convicts for whom accommodation 
was required might be housed for a couple of hundred thousand 
pounds. Colonel Jebb accompanied this proposal with certain 
figures as a set-off against this outlay. He assumed that the 
maintenance, including every item of the whole number, would 
amount to £158,000, but their earnings would be £180,000. 
The balance gain was therefore of £22,000 — a sufficient interest 
on the original cost of the prison buildings. These figures 
were speculative of course, nor were they found exactly accurate 
in practice, although there is no great difference in the balance 
gain. The cost of maintenance proved undoubtedly higher 
than thus estimated, but en revanche the earnings were also 
considerably more. 

Three years later, in March, 1850, Colonel Jebb reports 
to the Secretary of State that he has provided room for 840 
prisoners at Portland. ^'The main buildings consist of four 
large open halls, eighty-eight feet long by twenty-one broad, 
having four tiers of cells on each side." The interior of the 
halls were well ventilated, and could be warmed; the cells. 
were seven feet by four, and furnished with hammock, 
tables, shelves for books, etc. "The cells are divided by 
partitions of corrugated iron, and are sufficient to secure the 
effectual separation of the men at night, and to admit of their 
taking their meals in them, and reading or otherwise occupy- 
ing themselves after working hours, till they go to bed." In 
addition to the cell accommodation there was of course full 
provision for officers' quarters, chapel, kitchen, wash-houses, 
stores, and so forth. Moreover ample space was reserved 
"within the boundary wall for the erection of additional 
buildings, so as to increase the number of convicts to 1200 
or 1 500, if it should be found necessary or desirable." Every- 
thing was now in fair working order. The foundation stone 
of the breakwater had been laid in July, 1849, by Prince 
Albert, who visited the prison and presented a Bible and 
Prayer-Book for use in its chapel ; but till then, and during 


the first year of the occupation of a *' bleak and barren rock '' 
the convicts were chiefly employed in setting things straight 
within the prison walls. They had to level parade grounds, 
make roads and reservoirs, fit gates and doors, paint and 
clean up the whole establishment. As soon as practicable 
they were turned on to the breakwater works. " The stone," 
says Colonel Jebb, "is to be removed from the quarries by 
means of several lines of railways, which are arranged in a 
series of inclined planes from the summit to the point where 
the breakwater joins the shore. The waggons will be raised 
and lowered by wire ropes, working on ' drums,' placed at the 
head of each ' incline,' the loaded train in its descent drawing 
up the empty one from the breakwater.'' 

In the general detail of work, the share that fell upon the 
convicts was the plate-laying, levelling, forming embankments 
and excavations, getting out and stacking the stone, filling 
the waggons, sending them down and bringing them back 
from the incline. Some 500 were so employed during the 
first year, 1849, and their earnings were estimated at about 
£15,000. ^ 

Portland when thus fairly launched became the starting- 
point for the new arrangements. Other prisons were needed, 
and they must be built like Portland. But time pressed, and 
anything actually available at the moment was eagerly pressed 
into the service. Down at Dartmoor, on the high lands above 
Tavistock, was a huge building which had been empty now 
for five-and-thirty years. Its last occupants had been the 
French and American prisoners of war, who had been confined 
there down to the peace of 1814. Ten thousand, some said 
twelve thousand, had been accommodated within the walls — 
surely there must be room there for several hundred convicts ? 
Colonel Jebb, hearing that Captain Groves from Millbank was 
staying down at Plymouth, begged him to run over to inspect 
Dartmoor. The place was like a howling wilderness; the 
buildings in places without roofs; the walls in holes, if not 
in ruins. But a few repairs would soon make the place 
habitable, said Captain Groves ; and accordingly a batch of 
convicts, under Mr. Morrish, now one of the directors of 
convict prisons (1884), were sent down to commence operations. 


In a short time Dartmoor prison was opened. Then other 
receptacles were prepared. The hulks had been pressed into 
the service, and were employed, but only as a temporary 
measure, at the various dockyards to house the convicts till 
proper buildings on the new plan could be erected. There 
were ships at Woolwich, and others at Portsmouth. At 
the first station the old Warrior, and the Defence, took 
the able-bodied, while the Unite served as a hospital; at 
Portsmouth there were the YorJc, Briton, Stirling Castle, 
till 1852, when the new convict prison was occupied. Soon 
after this, in 1855, contracts were entered into for the erection 
of a large prison at Chatham, which was completed in 1858, 
and to which all those at the Woolwich hulks were in course 
of time transferred. The intention at both these stations was 
to devote a mass of convict labour to further the dockyard 
-extensions. At Chatham the object in view was to construct, 
high up the tortuous Medway, a chain of artificial basins 
capable of containing our fleet. Hither beaten ships might 
retire to refit ; while new ironclads, built in the dock close by, 
might issue thence to retrieve disaster. From the first the 
work was of an arduous character. The battle was against 
the tide and the treacherous mud. But the whole of St. 
Mary's Island has been reclaimed ; marsh has given place to 
solid ground ; the three basins are completed, and with the 
barracks, store-houses, and other buildings will be fully 
incorporated within the limits of Chatham Dockyard. At 
Portsmouth, a feat has been accomplished, not exactly similar, 
but wonderful also in its way. 

So much for the framework — the bones, so to speak, of the 
new system ; let us see next something of the living tissues 
with which it was filled up. 

Speaking broadly, it may be laid down that the plan of 
treatment inaugurated by Colonel Jebb and his colleagues, 
was based on persuasion rather than coercion. This, indeed, 
they openly allowed. They were not advocates for a ''purely 
coercive and penal discipline.'' They conceived that there 
was sufficient punishment without that ; the convicts suffered 
enough in the "long periods during which they remained 
under penal restraint," and there was further discomfort in 


*^ their eventual deportation to a distant colony,* and the 
somewhat severe restrictions to which they are subjected 
when they gain the boon o£ a ticket-of-leave/' The directors 
of convict prisons hoped, therefore, to accomplish their 
object by reward and encouragement rather than by strictness 
and terror. They desired to put it plainly before every 
convict that if he would but continue quiet and obedient, he 
would be sure to benefit in the long run. It was really worth 
his while to be good, they said. '^It will convince us that 
you are on the high road to reform, and the sooner we are 
convinced you are reformed, the sooner you will be set at 
large.^^ Everything was made to depend on conduct — good 
conduct — in other words, the mere formal observance of rules, 
a submissive demeanour, and a readiness to echo — but with 
hypocritical hearts — the lessons the chaplains taught. The 
word " industry " was tacked on to " conduct," but only in a 
subordinate sense, and so long as the convict was civil he 
might be as lazy as he liked. 

Precise rules provided the machinery by which a due 
estimate of each man's conduct was to be obtained. Every 
governor of a prison kept a character-book, in which he 
was to enter concisely his observation upon the character 
and conduct of every prisoner, so as to be thus enabled 
to reward him by classification and good-conduct badges, 
and more especially " to report with confidence whenever 
he may be called upon in conjunction with the chaplain to 
assist the authorities in determining the period of detention 
of the different prisoners." The same rule went on to say, 
"He (the governor) shall take every opportunity of impressing 
on the prisoners that the particulars of their conduct are thus 
noticed and recorded; and that whilst no effort at good- 
conduct and industry on the part of a prisoner will be dis- 
regarded by the authorities of the prison, every act of wilful 
misconduct and punishment will be equally noted, and will 
tend to prolong the period of his detention under penal 
•discipline." The governor's opinion was to be endorsed by 
that of the chaplain, and even the subordinate officers were 

* These regulations were drawn up at a time wlien transportation, 
was still practised, though only to a limited extent. 


called upon to record their views of the demeanour of the 
prisoners they especially controlled. The whole object of 
this classification and this supervision was to " produce on 
the minds of the prisoners a practical and habitual conviction 
of the effect which their own good conduct and industry will 
have on their welfare and future prospects." 

These extracts from Colonel Jebb's earliest reports will be 
sufficient to indicate the bias of his mind. He too, like others 
who had gone before, was hopeful of reformation by purely 
moral means. As he has himself declared in one of his 
reports, he thought he might more surely gain the great 
end he had in view by leading than by driving. Upon this 
principle the whole system of management was based. There 
can be no question that those who were its authors took their 
stand upon the highest ground. They were called upon to 
inaugurate a new order of things, and they did so to the best 
of their ability, in the most straightforward, conscientious 
fashion. The glaring evils of transportation, as it had been 
administered, were then still staring them in the face. 
" Speaking humanly," says Colonel Jebb,* " the demora- 
lization of every individual sentenced to transportation 
was certain. No matter what might have been his previous 
character, what the amount of his constitution, or what the 
sincerity of his efforts and resolutions to retrace his steps, he 
was placed within the influence of a moral pestilence, from 
which, like death itself, there was no escape." The necessity 
for great and radical changes was imperative; and these 
changes were carried out in the manner I have described. 
Great results were expected to follow from them. 

In the first year or two everything appears coiileur de rose. 
"As a body the men show a spirit of willing and cheerful 
obedience. The strictest discipline is maintained with a very 
small proportion of punishment. The industry of the working 
parties is remarkable." Again, the same report asserts that 
" any candid and dispassionate inquiry into the condition and 
prospects of the convicts who have passed through periods of 
penal and reformatory discipline at Pentonville and Portland, 
will prove beyond doubt that, to say the least of it, the 
* General Report of 186] . 


majority of those now serving are likely on tlieir release to be 
respectable in tlieir station of life, and useful to tbose wbo en- 
gage tlieir services; thus realising the anticipations of the 
Pentonville commissioners, that a large proportion of our 
convicts would be qualified on their discharge to occupy an 
honest position in their own or any other country/^ 

This was in 1852. The system was to have ten years to 
run — ten years of trial, so to speak — before it was attacked 
with the shower of obloquy to which I have referred at the 
commencement of this chapter. What had happened in the 
interval ? Was the method of management preserved intact ? 
Had it deteriorated, or had other causes interfered to pave the 
way to failure ? I will endeavour to answer these questions in 
a few words. 

Not only was all the fair and soft treatment with which 
the system had started in effect maintained ; if anything it was 
altogether over-done. The tenderness and considerateness of 
the authorities grew and increased till at length it knew no 
bounds. Far-seeing and able as was Sir Joshua Jebb, how- 
ever skilful and capable as an administrator, on one point he 
was weak. It was an amiable weakness, but it did both 
himself and his system incalculable harm. He had formed 
too high an opinion of the criminal class ; he was too hopeful, 
too ready to accept the shadow for the substance, to be 
satisfied with promise rather than performance, and to view 
the outward whitewashed semblance of purity for the radical 
transformation of the inner man. This was the key-note of 
the system, and this as time passed grew and gained strength, 
till at least there was some semblance of truth in the allega- 
tions so freely cast in his teeth. It became known, and this 
beyond contradiction, that the diet in those days was far too 
generous; that the care taken of the convicts was tender to 
the extent of ridiculous coddling ; that the labour exacted was 
far below the amount that each might reasonably be expected 
to perform. These facts, which are more or less proved by 
the evidence before the commission of 1863, are fully borne 
out by the traditions of the department itself. Old officers 
tell me that in all the prisons discipline was almost a dead 
letter. The convicts themselves ruled the roast. They did 


not break away, because there were troops at hand who would 
shoot them down; but otherwise they did just what they 
pleased. Their warders, taking their cue from the supreme 
power, sought to humour them into obedience by civil speeches 
rather than by firmness and resolution. The officers were 
afraid to enforce their orders, and the convicts saw that they 
were afraid. Men who are over-fed, if they are also idle, are 
sure to prove saucy and run .riot. Some of the scenes at the 
convict prisons were disgraceful, almost rivalling at times, but 
without the fearful consequences, the anarchy and disorder I 
have described in chapter x. 

That the convicts were thus as a body insolent and iu- 
subordinate, was undoubtedly due to the petting and 
pampering they received. But another, and a potent cause 
too, was the unsettled, dissatisfied spirit evoked in the whole 
mass by several successive alterations in the law — alterations 
which it was absolutely necessary to introduce, but which none 
the less produced unevenness of treatment between varigus 
classes of prisoners. 

The first change was in 1852, when transportation was 
found to be at its last gasp. Some substitute was needed 
because there were thousands awaiting removal, and yet no 
outlet for them. " After much anxious consideration it was 
determined by the Grovernment to commute their sentences to 
imprisonment in this country for certain proportionate periods 
— three years for seven years, and so on.'^ * At the same time 
a new style of punishment was invented, to describe which the 
words " penal servitude " were coined, and passed current in 
the language. Of course those under the first system were to 
leave prison at the end of their commuted terms ; but they 
went out as ticket-of -leave men, and not absolutely free ; while 
those who were sentenced, after 1853, to the new punishment, 
remained within the walls to the last. 

Here, then, an invidious distinction was clearly instituted, 
although the evil effects thereof were not for some time 
apparent. But as the years rolled by, numbers of the '' trans- 
portation men'' were set at large as holders of tickets-of -leave. 
Their conduct was not quite blameless, and there was soon 
* Sir Joshua Jebb : Keport of 1857. 


an indignant outcry at tlieir premature release. Of course 
every offence committed everywhere was fastened upon them, 
and the system which permitted them to he out and at their 
mischievous work. Sir Joshua Jebb was of opinion that more 
was made of the matter than the occasion justified. He con- 
sidered that " into this outcry was enlisted all the disappoint- 
ment that had been felt^ and all the alarm which had been 
excited at the bare idea of the discontinuance of transporta- 
tion, which necessarily involved the release at home of so 
many rogues who had hitherto been finally got rid of." 

Immediately following this outcry, however, came a fresh 
consideration of the question, and a fresh Act of Parliament, 
making further and new provisions. Of this the prominent 
feature was the extension of the terms of penal servitude 
which a judge might pass, to correspond with the former 
terms of transportation. By the same Act the method of 
granting tickets-of-leave was fully ''recognised and recom- 
mended, so that a measure which had been adopted as a 
convenience, or necessity, in commuting a sentence of trans- 
portation into one of which a portion should be imprisonment, 
and the remainder on license, became part and parcel of our 
penal administration.^^ The actual consequences of these 
changes were that in all the prisons there were convicts 
serving side by side under these different conditions. " Some 
with remissions under the old Transportation Act; some 
without remission, sentenced between 1853 and 1857; others 
with remission under the Act of 1857." No doubt, then, 
those in the second category had some sort of grievance, and 
the temper of the convicts was not, in these days, such that 
they exhibited longsuffering patience under even more trivial 

Many prescriptions were tried to remedy the discontent — 
increased food, greater privileges, more persuasive talk. But 
to a prisoner such substitutes are mere dross compared to the 
true gold of freedom to pass beyond the prison walls. Nothing 
would keep the malcontents quiet ; and where a few are evilly 
disposed among a crowd of men, others without just cause of 
complaint are soon sucked in and go with the stream. After 
festering and rankling below the surface for some time, the 


misctief came to head in an outbreak at Portland in 1858, 
wtiere the convicts threw down their tools and in a body struck 
work. By-and-by a much more serious mutiny occurred at 
Chatham. But both were happily checked without bloodshed, 
and by the mere exhibition of armed force. 

Finally, in 1862, the /'garroters^ panic" broke upon un- 
protected London. Then it was that the last new system of 
secondary punishment — the system which had grown by slow 
degrees out of the remnants of " transportation," and which 
was now ten years old — was arraigned to show cause why it 
•also should not give place to something more satisfactory to 
all concerned. 




It cannot be said that the verdict of the commissioners ap- 
pointed to report in 1863 was unfavourable to the system 
they were called upon to review. On the contrary, they 
declared that the general impression that the punishment as 
administered under Sir Joshua Jebb was not of a sufficiently 
penal character, was erroneous. The commissioners could not 
admit that the system was really at fault. The life of the 
prisoners, they said, was extremely monotonous. "Having 
been used in most cases to constant change and excitement, 
they are debarred from all pleasures and amusements, they 
are compelled to pass their time in a dull unvarying routine of 
distasteful labour, and at the close of each day's work they 
return to the cheerless solitude of their cells.'' No doubt 
they did less work than many a free man gladly performed of 



his own accord ; but tlie convicts' labour was nevertlieless not 
light J and they all hated it most cordially. Again, they were 
not really too indulgently treated. If, for instance, they took 
shelter from a light shower of rain, it was only because there 
was a difficulty in the prisons of drying rapidly a quantity of 
wet clothes. The commissioners were not even sure that the 
convicts' diet was excessive, although satisfactory evidence 
was put before them that convicts were better fed than 
paupers in workhouses or than numbers of the free labouring 

But having made these admissions, the commissioners 
could not deny that " the system appears to be not sufficiently 
dreaded by those who have undergone it, or by the criminal 
classes in general." The ^number of re-convictions, they 
thought, proved this ; moreover, " the accounts given of 
penal servitude by discharged convicts, and the fact that 
they generally come back so soonf to their original haunts, 
tends to prevent its being regarded with fear by their 
associates. Indeed, in some (though doubtless exceptional) 
cases, crimes have been committed for the sole purpose of 
obtaining the advantages which the offenders have supposed 
a sentence of penal servitude to confer." The system could 
not, therefore, be called perfect. It had failed to some extent 
— but how ? The commissioners attributed its shortcomings 
in a minor degree to defects in the discipline maintained, but 
thought the blame lay really in the shortness of the terms of 
imprisonment awarded in the courts of law. 

To speak first of the latter point ; the commissioners 
reported that there had been a notable reduction for some 
years previous in the length of sentences, and to make them 
still lighter came the remission of time granted under the new 
rules. J It was a curious fact that the late increase of crime 

* Mr. Harries, an oflScial at Gwydyr House, supplied long and 
valuable tables to prove tbis, which will be found in an appendix to the 
report of 1863. His statement may be briefly summed up in the facts : 

1. That in prison a man got 377 ounces of food weekly, costing 4s. Id. ; 
while, if free, he would have to support himself and family on 8s. a week. 

2. Lunatics and paupers could be fed at the rate of 2s. M. per week, 
t By obtaining an early release on ticket-of -leave. 

+ The Act of 1857. 


Tiad corresponded in point of date witli tlie discharge o£ 
prisoners who were first sentenced for short terms under the 
Act of 1857, and was probably mainly attributable to their 
release from custody.* And they had come out unchastened. 
"The discipline to which convicts are subjected does not 
produce its proper effect in short periods of punishment." 

Next as to the discipline. It was clearly a mistake to lay 
so much stress on conduct only. It was wrong, too, that the 
•convicts should be allowed to earn enormous "gratuities," 
or sums to be handed over to them upon discharge. Many 
left prison with £30, £40, sometimes £80, in their pockets. 
The effect of this was to make a sentence of penal servitude 
an object of desire, rather than of apprehension. Besides, 
the longer a man's sentence — presumably, therefore, the 
greater his crime — the greater the sum he was entitled 
to take away with him. Again, the measures to keep the 
prisoners under coercion were far too mild. Punishment 
did not follow fast enough on acts of violence and aggravated 
misconduct. The infliction of corporal punishment was too 
restricted, and the " cat " used too light. There should be 
more power to use it and greater promptitude in its inflic- 
tion. Then came the work and the diet ; but on these points 
the committee spoke with less confidence. Last of all, there 
was an entire absence of supervision of those who were at 
large on ticket-of-leave. 

Having enunciated these propositions, the commissioners 
-went on to recommend certain important changes in the 
•manner of carrying out penal servitude, chief among which 
were : 

1. That in future no sentence should be passed of less than 
seven years. 

2. That re-convicted criminals should be treated more 
severely than others. 

* This increase was incontestable — 1860 showed no increase or 
decrease on previous years, but in 1862, convictions in England rose 
from 12,066 to 15,312 ; and sentences to death or penal servitude in 
England increased from 2,267 to 3,196. Eobberies of violence rose 
from 32 in 1860 to 97 in 1862, and burglaries in the same time rose 
-.from 179 to 259. — Parliamentary Record on Penal Servitude, 1862. 

2 G 2 


3. That convicts, after enduring separate imprisonment 
for nine montlis, should pass on to public works, where they 
might be permitted to earn by industry and good conduct an 
abridgment of a part of their imprisonment. 

4. That all males, if possible, should be sent to Western 
Australia during the latter part of their sentences, '^it being 
highly desirable to send convicts, under proper regulations 
and without disguise, to a thinly peopled colony, where they 
may be removed from their former temptations, where they 
will be sure of having the means of maintaining themselves 
by their industry if inclined to do so, and where facilities 
exist for keeping them under more effective control than is 
practicable in this country with its great cities and large 

5. That all who were unfit to go, and, gaining a remission 
of sentence, were discharged at home, should while on licence 
be subjected to close supervision by the police. 

Such was the substance of the report. But it is right to 
mention here that the commissioners were not quite unanimous 
in the conclusions arrived at. Two of them, Mr. Henley 
and the Lord Chief Justice, would not sign the report. Mr. 
Childers put his name to it, but under protest. He could not 
agree to the proposals as to transportation. His view was 
the Australian one, and he was of opinion that " the measures 
recommended — while costly to the country and odious to her 
colonies — would at best afford only a brief delay in the solution 
of a question daily becoming more difficult.^' 

But by far the most important of the dissentient voices 
was that of Sir Alexander Cockburn, the Lord Chief Justice, 
who appended to the report a long memorandum giving his 
reasons for not concurring in it. After a careful perusal of 
this, the reader would, I think, be ready to concede that the 
Lord Chief Justice went nearer the mark than his colleagues. 
They hesitated to admit that our penal system was defective. 
Sir Alexander Cockburn had no sort of doubt of it, and main- 
tained that the same impression was pretty generally abroad. 
But if there were faults in it, said the commissioners, then the 
administration of the law was to blame, it was too lenient. 
To this the Lord Chief Justice would by no means agree. The 


leniency of the judges, as it had shown itself of late, was 
nothing. " The spirit in which the law is administered/' he 
observed, "is not the growth of yesterday. It has arisen 
gradually out of the more humane and merciful disposition of 
men's minds in modern times, whereby punishments inflicted 
without scruple in former days would now be regarded cruel 
and inhuman." No ; the inefficacy of penal servitude did not 
lie in the shortness or inequality of sentences, but in the 
manner in which the punishment is inflicted. •'* Moderate 
labour, ample diet, substantial gratuities, are hardly calculated 
to produce on the minds of the criminal that salutary dread of 
the recurrence of the punishment which may be the means 
of deterring him, and through his example, others from the 
commission of crime." 

And then the Lord Chief Justice goes on to put forth the 
following pregnant sentences, which I quote in full. In 
taking up the question of punishment, he says, " it is necessary 
to bear in mind what are the purposes for which the punish- 
ment of offenders takes place. These purposes are twofold : 
the first, that of deterring others exposed to similar temptations 
from the commission of crime ; the second the reformation of 
the criminal himself. The first is the primary and more im- 
portant object : for though society has, doubtless, a strong 
interest in the reformation of the criminal, and his consequent 
indisposition to crime, yet the result is here confined to the 
individual offender ; while the effect of punishment as deterring 
from crime extends, not only to the party suffering the punish- 
ment, but to all who may be in the habit of committing crime, 
or who may be tempted to fall into it. Moreover, the refor- 
mation of the offender is in the highest degree speculative 
and uncertain, and its permanency in the face of renewed 
temptation exceedingly precarious. On the other hand, the 
impression produced by suffering inflicted as the punishment 
of crime, and the fear of its repetition, are far more likely 
to be lasting, and much more likely to counteract the tendency 
to the renewal of criminal habits. It is on the assumption 
that punishment will have the effect of deterring from crime, 
that its infliction can alone be justified; its proper and legiti- 
mate purpose being not to avenge crime but to prevent it. 


" The experience of mankind has shown that thougli crime 
■will always exist to a certain extent, it may be kept within 
given bounds by the example of punishment. This result it is 
the business of the lawgiver to accomplish by annexing to each 
offence the degree of punishment calculated to repress it. 
More than this would be a waste of so much human suffering ; 
but to apply less, out of consideration for the criminal, is to 
sacrifice the interests of society to a misplaced tenderness 
towards those who offend against its laws. Wisdom and 
humanity no doubt alike suggest that, if consistently with this 
primary purpose the reformation of the criminal can be brought 
about, no means should be omitted by which so desirable an 
end can be achieved. But this, the subsidiary purpose of 
penal discipline, should be kept in due subordination to its 
primary and principal one. And it may well be doubted 
whether, in recent times, the humane and praiseworthy desire 
to reform and restore the fallen criminal may not have 
produced too great a tendency to forget that the protection of 
society should be the first consideration of the lawgiver." 

I have dwelt thus at length upon the committee of 1863 
because upon the recommendations put forward in its report 
are based the outlines of our system of secondary punishment as 
it exists to the present day. Nearly all the reforms and changes 
indicated have been by this time brought about. There is no 
longer a wasteful superabundance of food in the prisons ; 
the gratuities have been cut down to the more modest sums of 
two and three pounds. Convicts are not, it is true, still sent